Advocacy groups that oppose helping the state's power companies build nuclear plants said today that they're in sync with 70 percent of North Carolina voters who fear higher utility bills.
The groups, calling themselves Consumers Against Rate Hikes, said a recent poll of 600 state residents shows that 70 percent agree that state laws should not be changed to make it easier for electric utilities to raise customer rates to pay for new nuclear plants.
Public polling is standard operating procedure in complex, controversial policy debate. The polls are used to measure the likelihood of legislative success, and sometimes to sway lawmakers to vote for or against specific proposals.
The proposal to change the state's law has not yet been introduced in the state legislature, but oppponents are trying to build momentum in advance to stymie the electric companies.
The high response rate in the advocacy group's poll is hardly surprising, considering the way the question was phased: "Would you support or oppose a proposed law in North Carolina that would allow electric companies to raise rates during construction to finance new nuclear power plants with minimal public oversight and regulatory review?" (Emphasis added.)
The coalition warns that building new nuclear plants could add $25 a month to a typical household electricity bill. They also say that electric utilities are running a significant risk of cost overruns and project abandonments, as happened in more than 60 instances during the last wave of nuclear construction in the 1970s and 1980s.
Progress Energy and Duke Energy say that unless state law is changed to make it easier to pay for nuclear plants, they will not be able to raise the billions of dollars from Wall Street to build new reactors.
Early cost recovery will reduce interest payments and lower the cost of nuclear construction by as much as 25 percent, according to some estimates. Those savings would ultimately be passed on to consumers, who would have to pay less to get the plants built, the power companies say.
When they do their own polls, the utilities are likely to phrase their questions to emphasize the cost savings and emissions-free eleectricity of nuclear power.
In nuclear polling, a 70 percent support rate seems to be the magic number. Just today, the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington issued poll results showing that "more than 70 percent of Americans said they favor the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States."
Charlotte-based Duke and Raleigh-based Progress strongly dispute the charge that they want to raise rates with minimal oversight. Rather, the electric companies say they want to be able to raise customer rates each year to recover nuclear financing costs, but without having to go through complex rate hearings.
That would mean the power companies would go through regulatory audits and reviews of their nuclear expenses only, but not of other utility operations.
The advocacy coalition trying to thwart the power companies includes the following organizations: AARP North Carolina, Action NC, Alliance for NC SAVE$ ENERGY, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Clean Water for NC, NC Fair Share, NC Housing Coalition, NC Interfaith Power & Light (a program of the NC Council of Churches), NC Justice Center, NC League of Conservation Voters, NC WARN, Nuclear Information & Resource Service, Western NC Physicians for Social Responsibility.