October 5, 2009
NC customers would pay higher rates to build Cliffside and nuclear plants so the power company can expand in South Carolina
Statement from Executive Director Jim Warren:
Durham, NC – If an enormous electricity deal is approved, Duke Energy’s North Carolina customers would pay for expensive new power plants they don’t need so the company can expand sales outside its service area. Power bills would increase for decades with no benefit to ratepayers.
That’s the gist of NC WARN’s legal intervention filed today with the NC Utilities Commission against Duke’s contract to sell up to 1000 MW of juice to the Central Coops of South Carolina.
As attorney John Runkle wrote the commission: “… it is not in the public convenience and necessity to build new plants with the sole purpose of selling to new wholesale customers …this is the standard required both before the construction of new plants … The effect on the North Carolina ratepayers becomes the paramount determination in using this standard.”
Duke CEO Jim Rogers insists the controversial, 800 megawatt Cliffside coal-fired plant must be built to handle growing service area demand. But years of flat growth during this decade – and Duke’s projections that demand will actually fall through at least 2014 – has left Rogers to aggressively court new business well outside Duke’s territory. If approved, sales to the Central Coop would begin shortly after Duke plans to open its new Cliffside unit in 2012.
Last March, the Utilities Commission rejected a similar but far smaller deal Duke tried to cut with the City of Orangeburg, SC, with only Chairman Ed Finley siding with Duke. That ruling appeared to effectively nix many other Duke solicitations, including an effort to steal the much larger Fayetteville, NC from Progress Energy. But Duke and Orangeburg are appealing that order both in state courts and before federal energy regulators, and Duke keeps lining up new outside customers.
Despite the Orangeburg parallels to the Central Coops case, the Commission’s Public Staff has already sided with Duke on the new contract. But as attorney Runkle wrote, “It is obvious that the capacity Duke Energy is marketing is either from the construction of new power plants or through energy efficiency programs ….” Duke’s controversial Save-a-Watt program, if ever realized, would be funded by existing customers, while any savings would be gobbled up by Duke’s expanded sales.
As yet, neither Attorney General Cooper nor the industrial customer groups have intervened in the case; today is the filing deadline. A Commission ruling is pending on NC WARN’s motion to revoke the Cliffside permission to construction. We continue to urge the Commission to connect the dots between dockets that clearly show Cliffside is not needed to meet energy demand.