News Release Contact: Jim Warren
March 4, 2008
New Nuclear Costs Can’t be Secret, Groups Say
With industry estimates tripling – up to $9 billion per reactor –
NC commission must order Duke Energy to open the books
Durham, NC – An alliance of public advocacy groups* today urged the NC Utilities Commission to require full disclosure of cost estimates for two nuclear reactors proposed south of Charlotte. The groups say Duke Energy is attempting to hide the soaring costs of the proposed Lee Nuclear Station to prevent sticker shock among electric ratepayers.
Utility estimates for similar reactors planned in Florida have tripled in just two years, with prices ranging to $9 billion per unit. Seven state and national groups are interveners in a Commission case where Duke is seeking pre-approval of $160 million in “preconstruction” costs for proposed plants in Cherokee County, SC.
NC WARN attorney John Runkle told the NC Commission in a legal brief today that “It would be imprudent and unreasonable to approve project development costs for a project that was so costly, in comparison to other generating plants, and especially to renewable energy facilities and energy efficiency projects, that it should never be considered as a viable option.”
The preconstruction cost – part of the three-year application process as Duke seeks a federal permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – is a mere down payment for the full plant. Just two years ago, Duke and other utilities thought they could build so-called “advanced reactors” for $2-3 billion each. NC WARN and others point out that never-been-built designs are likely to suffer costly approval and construction delays, along with unexpected safety problems.
“Duke Energy treats the public as the stupidest bank around,” said Jim Warren of NC WARN. He noted that private lenders have made clear that they won’t gamble on new nukes without 100% loan guarantees, the subject of an ongoing fight in Congress.
“Last year Duke and Progress Energy conned both Carolinas legislatures into forcing customers to absorb most of the enormous financial risk of new reactors,” Warren explained. “That’s because the power companies know there’s a strong chance that new plants will fail in midstream.” Between them, Duke and Progress cancelled nine new plants underway in the Carolinas during the 1980s; some fifty other plants were cancelled across the U.S.
The alliance urged the Commission to require Duke Energy to publically disclose its current cost estimate for the Lee plant, including financing charges, and publically disclose on a quarterly basis any changes in those cost estimates. The Commission set a precedent for such transparency last year after Duke attempted to keep secret the rising costs of its Cliffside coal-fired plant.
The NC Commission will conduct a hearing on approval of the preconstruction costs in late April in Raleigh. Today’s action complements a legal move in South Carolina, where Friends of the Earth challenged the need for the Lee plant in front of the SC Public Service Commission.
* The other groups are Public Citizen, the N.C. Public Interest Research Group, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Common Sense at the Nuclear Crossroads, Clean Water for N.C. and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.