NC WARN: Utilities' nuke plant plans will explode electric bills

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A new report from NC WARN, co-authored by Duke University economist John Blackburn and environmental attorney John Runkle, says Duke Energy and Progress Energy would save electric ratepayers a bundle by getting serious about energy-efficiency programs and renewable energy (wind, solar, biomass and cogeneration) while cancelling four nuclear reactors they have on the drawing boards.

Duke Energy should also cancel its planned Cliffside project near Charlotte, a coal-fired plant, the report says.

Altogether, the four nukes and Cliffside will cost at least $35 billion and probably a a lot more than that, the two authors said today. Supplying the same amount of energy via proven conservation methods and renewable sources would cost far less, they said.

Currently, residential electric customers in North Carolina pay an average of about $100 a month. If the five planned plants are built, that average could jump to between $150-$200 over the next 10-15 years, the two said.

Progress Energy is seeking licenses to add two reactors to the one now operating at the Shearon Harris facility in Wake County. Duke Energy's two planned reactors would be at a Gafney, SC facility about an hour south of Charlotte.

If the utilites dump the five plants and put energy-efficiency programs in place instead that cut electricity consumption by just 1 percent a year over the next 15 years while also pushing the percentage of electric generation derived from renewable sources from the current 4 percent to 10 percent, the authors said, electric bills might actually go down, not up.

"Rates will go up, but people pay bills, not rates," Blackburn remarked.

Blackburn, an emeritus Duke professor, is former chair of the economics department at Duke and a specialist in energy-generation issues.

Update: Mike Hughes, a spokesman for Progress Energy, said the utility has figured a "significant" decrease in electricity usage from energy-efficiency measures into its load forecasts/ But Hughes added that PE must cope with the reality that the Raleigh-Cary area is the fastest growing metro in the country and 10 other North Carolina counties are among the nation's top 100 fastest-growing.

"We are moving forward on efficiency and renewable as part of a balanced energy strategy. But we cannot put all of our eggs in one basket and hope that customers make dramatic lifestyle changes in a few short years, or that renewable energy sources become more reliable or competitive," Hughes said. "We have a responsibility to plan many years in advance for the resources that will be needed to ensure that the lights come on 10 years from now. If the facts change in the coming years, our resource plan will reflect the changes."

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