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Anti-nuke advocates say NC voters on their side

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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.

 

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Anti-nuke advocates?

Unfortunately the blog post makes it seem the groups opposing unreviewed annual electric rate hikes are just in it because they are anti-nuclear.  Many of the groups are against the rate hikes because of the hardships ratehikes would have on seniors and families in this economic times; others are concerned that the utilities are seeking a "blank check" from ratepayers on risky construction projects that noone else will lend money for.  The bill is being introduced because the utilities claim the only way they can build up to four $10 billion power plants is for the ratepayers to put up the money during construction.  Not only are the listed groups opposed, the poll shows almost everyone in NC is against the scheme.  John Runkle, NC WARN
 

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About the blogger

John Murawski has been a full-time newspaper reporter since 1991, with stints at Legal Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy (both in Washington, DC), The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Palm Beach Post (in South Florida) before arriving at the N&O in December 2004. At the N&O he covers energy (nuclear, coal, renewable, efficiency), hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), public utilities and health care. His beat includes PSNC Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy Progress, PowerSecure International, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Biogen Idec and others. He has also contributed more than 30 book reviews on topics spanning botany, history, science and religion. You can reach him at 919-829-8932 or e-mail him.
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