Why should customers foot the bill for Duke Energy’s repeated nuclear mistake in upstate South Carolina?
In the 1970s and 1980s, the nuclear-obsessed utility tried to push the then-named Cherokee Nuclear Station in Cherokee County, SC. But with electric demand growth falling, and North Carolina law and regulators reasserting control over wasted capital expenditures, Duke eventually pulled the plug.
In 1982, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill strictly limiting Duke’s ability to force their customers to pay for capital investments that weren’t actually in use and might never be. This change helped put a hold on Duke’s tendency to overestimate its electric demand growth predictions and to build unneeded, overpriced nuclear plants. That restraint lasted for two decades until shifting state laws once again opened the door to Duke hitting its North Carolina customers with unproductive “construction work in progress” costs. Ironically, that change came as part of an important bill otherwise intended to promote growth of renewable energy.
In 2005, Duke decided to renew its upstate South Carolina nuclear folly, now renamed the Lee Nuclear Station after Duke’s former CEO who was a champion of nuclear power. In 2017, soaring costs, growing alternative energy sources, and collapsing construction partners forced Duke to once again abandon its construction plans there. In the meantime, Duke wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on this two-time loser.
Now, Duke is asking South Carolina regulators to force its customers in that state to pay $112 million for their “share” of the abandoned nuclear project.
South Carolina regulatory staff, consumer protection groups, and clean energy advocates all oppose the request at least in part. “It will not provide any benefits. Duke pursued the Lee nuclear reactors despite it being a risky, expensive project that only became more and more problematic,” Sara Barczak with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said. “Why should customers foot the bill for a utility’s mistake? There’s been too much of that happening in South Carolina over bungled new nuclear expansion projects.”
Note to North Carolina electric customers: Our turn is coming. Duke is trying to recover the estimated $558 million it wasted on the nuclear resurrection attempt. If it asked for $112 million from South Carolina customers, that leaves $446 million it wants to get from us.
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