Folks concerned about electricity rate hikes received some good news this week. Robert Gruber, executive director of the Public Staff of the NC Utilities Commission (NCUC), told the Charlotte Business Journal he is opposing efforts by utility companies to recover costs for building new nuclear reactors before they are constructed.
Duke Energy’s CEO, Jim Rogers, recently requested the NCUC allow his company to charge ratepayers for two new nuclear power plants Duke wants to build in South Carolina, BEFORE ground is broken for reactors that have no permits and may never be built. Rogers’ request was made only days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan which touched off the ongoing releases of radiation from the Fukushima reactors that are damaged beyond repair.
Gruber, whose job is to protect ratepayers, sees the writing on the wall in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe – more review of nuclear plant design and the possibility of more regulations that will drive the cost of nuclear power even higher. Gruber thinks that natural gas and a mix of renewable energy is going to be cheaper for ratepayers. It’s a twofer – better rates and better for the climate.
Unfortunately, Republican Representative George Cleveland of Onslow County, recently introduced a bill (HB 431) to repeal 2007 legislation, requiring utilities to get 12.5% of their energy from renewable sources by 2021. More than half of the states in the country have renewable energy requirements, ranging from 10% to 40% (NC’s is very weak by percentage and timeline). Repealing this hard- fought legislation will only further delay efforts to tackle climate change. The utilities don’t seem keen on repeal either as this legislation allows them to file for rate hikes with the NCUC for construction of new plants.
The Gruber announcement and the tragedy at Fukushima dealt critical blows to both the rate hike request and the reactors’ viability.
Meanwhile Duke Energy’s goal to scale up to 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020 isn’t very ambitious if Rogers believes what he says about the seriousness of climate change. Duke needs a far more aggressive efficiency and renewable energy program for North Carolina along with canceling the nuclear power plants. This would protect ratepayers and help dial back climate change, instead of wasting precious time trying to finance and build new nukes.