Duke rate hike due in part to abandoned Upstate nuclear plant plans

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Duke Energy held the second of three public meetings about a proposed rate hike at Anderson County Council Chambers on Wednesday evening as they confirm that the rate increase is partially tied to an abandoned nuclear plant in Cherokee County.

The proposal could increase your bill by 12% for homeowners.  Businesses would see an increase of less than 9%. 

The energy company had previously said that the rate increase was needed because of two hurricanes and a winter storm in 2018, but now Duke has confirmed it’s also to pay off an abandoned nuclear power plant in Cherokee County.

In the early 2000s, Duke Energy began plans to build William States Lee Nuclear Station at the site of a plant it tried to build in the 1980s.

Members of the Cherokee County Development Board were disappointed when those plans were abandoned a few years back.

“Shortly thereafter due to economic reasons it’s my understanding that the project has been put on hold,” said Jim Cook of the Cherokee County Development Board. “It was after they received their license to build and operate their facility.”

Duke said they spent $558 million on the abandoned Lee Nuclear Plant investment. The company is now asking for permission to charge customers a quarter of the pre-construction costs, which total approximately $125 million.

But because Duke is spreading out that burden, the end cost to customers will be $240 million.

In a statement about the nuclear site, Duke Energy said they’re gathering that money through $20 million a year of incurred project development expenses for the next 12 years.

City leaders said they hope the plans can be picked back up someday.

“I’m very pleased that they are keeping it now so that hopefully when the conditions are ripe we will see a nuclear facility in Cherokee county,” said Cook.

Customers said they’re not happy about the proposed hike.

“I don’t think that they should throw it back on the customers to pay for this thing,” said Cherokee County Duke customer Danny Gaston.

“I don’t want it all, I don’t like it, and they know it,” said Cherokee County Duke customer Ellen Cobb.

Similar sentiments were felt at the public hearing in Spartanburg County last night.    

Tomorrow, the final of three public hearings will be held at the Greenville County Council Chambers, 301 University Ridge, Suite 2400, Greenville, South Carolina 29601, at 6 p.m.

Read the full statement from Duke Energy on the Lee facility:

“The request related to new nuclear development costs has been part of our overall rate review request before the PSC since that was announced in November.

Investment in the development of new generation is a cost typically paid for by customers.

Duke Energy Carolinas has made an investment that will significantly reduce the time needed to develop a new nuclear plant if and when factors change and deem it is most beneficial for meeting customer energy needs. While we have cancelled further development and will not begin any construction of the Lee Nuclear project at this time, the license and other investments remain an important asset.

Cancelling the project helps to keep costs lower for customers while also meeting the state’s energy needs through the use of cost-effective natural gas, existing nuclear plants and expanded renewable energy. And it gives us the opportunity to benefit from the lessons learned from other utilities pursuing new nuclear generation, which will ultimately benefit customers when the appropriate time comes to build a new nuclear plant.

In this case, the company is seeking to recover $20 million incurred project development expenses each year over a 12 year period.  

We also continue to evaluate options to extend the life of our existing nuclear fleet. Additional base load generation could potentially be needed for the Carolinas – dependent on the outcome of relicensing efforts for the existing Duke Energy nuclear fleet in the Carolinas. 

The Public Service Commission of South Carolina (PSCSC) will ultimately determine what’s appropriate for customer rates based on a long-standing and very transparent public process for reviewing rate requests.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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