… after Duke-Progress wasted $70 million and eight years that should have been used to help slow global warming
Durham, NC – Duke Energy’s cancellation yesterday of licensing efforts to build two nuclear reactors at subsidiary Progress Energy’s Harris nuclear plant is good news – but it comes with a taint.
The Shearon Harris failure perfectly typifies why the US nuclear “renaissance” is making global warming worse. It is tragic that, against our vigorous warnings, Duke-Progress threw away eight years and $70 million – while blocking widespread advances in energy-saving programs, solar and wind, and combined heat and power, which together could allow phase-out of all fossil-fueled power in the Carolinas and help avoid the soaring electricity rates that are hammering families, small businesses and local governments.
NC WARN first began contesting the now-flailing “renaissance” in 2005, and shortly afterward formally opposed the Harris project before the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and, in long-range planning dockets, at the NC Utilities Commission. Licensing efforts for Harris had been largely suspended the last couple of years, but not officially laid to rest until yesterday.
Duke will seek to make Progress Energy customers, instead of corporate stockholders, pay for this blunder – and will likely try to add a mark-up, with profit, on top of the $70 million spent. That won’t be easy, especially because Progress didn’t seek prior Commission approval of the “reasonableness and prudency” for this project the way Duke did for its proposed Lee project.
The nuclear industry would prefer that people think the main cause for the Harris cancellation is the low price of natural gas, but other key reasons – most of which we warned of beginning years ago – include:
- Duke-Progress’ perpetual exaggeration of demand growth, which we’ve been contesting since 2007 at the NC Utilities Commission, which has annually sided with the utilities;
- skyrocketing price estimates for new nukes – to $10 billion or more per reactor;
- the steady drop in prices of renewable power technologies as they are adopted in non-monopoly states and other countries;
- a rapidly changing energy market and the electric industry’s own dramatic warning in January that utilities such as Duke cannot keep locking out competition – especially from distributed sources such as rooftop solar;
- Carolina ratepayers’ vigorous and growing opposition to Duke’s business model of raising rates repeatedly to build unneeded power plants;
- the increasing strength of the Consumers Against Rate Hikes alliance in contesting the “Annual Rate Hike Bill” Duke must have if it is to go forward with that business model;
- design, construction, and fabrication problems – and the promise of more ahead – that have already led to large cost overruns and delays at the two US projects underway in Georgia and South Carolina, which make it questionable whether any new US nuclear plants will be completed; and
- the ongoing federal lawsuit, by NC WARN and allies, contending that the AP1000 reactor design has not yet incorporated major changes demanded by NRC experts based on the Fukushima disaster.
Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers boasted yesterday that his is now the largest corporate utility in the world. As he heard from a variety of citizen and business voices at that stockholders’ meeting, Duke’s monopoly control over captive customers is tenuous, at best. This lumbering behemoth needs to align its interests with those of the public, or risk becoming extinct the way other corporate dinosaurs have in recent years.