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Groups don't want utilities to raise rates to build nuclear plants

Posted February 1, 2011

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— Several organizations fired a pre-emptive strike Tuesday against plans by two North Carolina utilities to streamline the process for seeking rate increases to pay for new nuclear plants.

The groups bought a full-page advertisement in The News & Observer newspaper and even wrote a column urging people to lobby against any legislation that would allow Progress Energy and Duke Energy to charge customers upfront for some of the costs associated with building new plants.

"We don't think the streamlined approach is the way to go," said Bill Wilson, associate state director for advocacy at AARP of North Carolina, one of the groups behind the ad. "Rates would go up for people, so that's a problem. The second thing is that we really believe in public scrutiny."

Groups don't want utilities to raise rates to build nuclear plants Groups don't want utilities to raise rates to build nuclear plants

Progress Energy and Duke Energy are in the process of merging into the nation's largest electric utility. The combined company plans to build four more nuclear generators, including two at the Shearon Harris site in southwest Wake County, at a cost of about $10 billion each.

"Nuclear has to be part of the equation (to meet growing demand)," Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes said. "Nuclear is a very expensive option to build. Nuclear is also our least-cost option to operate."

Hughes said the majority of the construction costs would be charged to customers after the nuclear plants are in service, but the utilities want a way to raise rates before the plants come on line to recover costs for site selection and preparation, financing and operations and maintenance.

Progress Energy already has spent tens of millions of dollars, for example, on pre-construction studies and applications for the two Shearon Harris generators. The units are still awaiting regulatory approval and might not be built for another three years.

A streamlined rate plan would allow the North Carolina Utilities Commission to review each rate increase tied to those costs but would avoid a full-blown public hearing every year, he said, noting such hearings are costly and time-consuming.

"We're going to do everything we can to minimize the impact on customers," he said.

Although no bill has been introduced in the House or Senate, Wilson said the AARP and other groups don't like the potential risk to utility customers.

"We would like to see the process maintained as it is, where we know we have significant input from the public," he said.

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  • Viewer Feb 2, 2011

    Think about sometime in the near future when the very techie folks in the RTP all plug in their E-Cars in the evening for recharging. It's not going to work. Get those new power plants sooner, rather than later. Until then I'll stick with my gasoline powered car.

  • ncpolitics Feb 2, 2011

    This issue is not about whether to build nuclear power plants, but whether the utility monopoly that has a guaranteed profit should have to go before the NC Utilities Commission to have to make their case for a rate hike (before the plant goes online). That's what happens in a "regulated" monopoly. The public deserves some input on this.

  • djofraleigh Feb 1, 2011

    where is the waste going? Harris is full.

  • smcallah Feb 1, 2011

    What exactly do these people think will replace nuclear power if these new reactors aren't built?

    Coal? Natural Gas? Those are limited and polluting, both in burning and mining.

    Solar? North Carolina is not a climate where you can have solar energy. We do not get enough sun. Where solar is big is in deserts, where there is sun almost 365 days a year.

    Wind? The coastal plains and foothills of NC cannot support wind. We would have to build turbines even taller than they are built in the mountains to get up to the height where there is enough wind for power generation. Or they'd have to be built so far off the coast that it would be about as expensive as building the nuclear reactors.

    Stop believing in movies and TV shows. These are not Soviet grade reactors that will be built. Nuclear reactors have never killed anyone in this country.

  • Viewer Feb 1, 2011

    The population is expanding. We need much more electricity. When the brown outs start who will these groups blame? Certainly not their high minded selves.

  • whatelseisnew Feb 1, 2011

    "The units are still awaiting regulatory approval and might not be built for another three years."

    This is what should be attacked. It should not take this long for approval. I guess in the meantime we can just keep burning up that coal that everyone loves.