Will Duke Energy get N.C.'s 'don't rush nukes' message?

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Will Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers finally get the message? The message is that his company’s fond dream of building more nuclear plants is fading fast.

Last Friday, in a move that received surprisingly little media notice, the N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) slashed Duke Energy’s authority to continue spending money to plan the proposed Lee Nuclear Station in Gaffney, S.C. Duke wanted permission to spend $229 million by the end of 2013, but later said it could settle for $120 million spending during 2011. On Friday, however, NCUC told Duke that $120 million is all it will approve through the next three years. That reduces pre-construction spending to a level that threatens the project’s future, at least according to March testimony in Raleigh by a Duke Energy VP.

This latest setback comes after a spate of bad news for Duke’s nuke plans. First, the Fukushima nuclear plant catastrophe in Japan let the air out of the supposed “new nukes” resurgence, which the nuke industry has been hyping for some time. Rogers also wanted the N.C. General Assembly to shorten the rate hike process for nukes, but lawmakers wouldn’t go along. And then, NCUC director Robert Gruber told Duke he wouldn’t support their request for a rate increase to pay for nuclear reactor construction. Take all these setbacks together, and Duke’s nuclear plans look riskier and less likely; in addition, the NCUC has now made it clear that if Duke wants to go ahead with its nuclear ambitions, its shareholders must be on the hook for it, and not the company’s ratepayers, i.e., you and me.

It’s high time for Rogers to ditch his company’s nuke strategy, increase energy efficiency programs, and run like hell toward renewable energy solutions. You have to wonder, though, if Rogers’ view isn’t tainted by his nuke fixation. As we noted in May, Rogers told the legislature in May that "North Carolina doesn't have any wind [energy potential]," although two prominently publicized national studies showed that North Carolina leads the East Coast in wind power capacity. One of the studies revealed that offshore wind power could generate all the power needed for the states of North Carolina, Massachusetts and Delaware — not to mention that building such a mid-Atlantic system would create up to 200,000 jobs, based on experience in Europe, where the offshore wind industry is far ahead of ours. In addition, in April the White House announced a plan to help accelerate the development of offshore wind energy, particularly in the mid-Atlantic states such as ... North Carolina. The writing is on the wall, Mr. Rogers. How about paying attention, for a change?

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