Duke Energy Corp. may never complete a decade-old plan to build a new nuclear plant near Gaffney, but its South Carolina customers could still get stuck with part of the tab, according to a state regulator.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Dec. 21 that it had issued licenses for Duke to build and operate two nuclear reactors at the proposed William States Lee III power plant.
The Charlotte-based power company, however, remains noncommittal about the project, which was once estimated to cost $11 billion.
Duke spokeswoman Rita Sipe said the ultimate decision on whether to build the plant will depend on various factors, including energy needs, project costs, environmental regulations, natural gas prices and cost-recovery rules set by state lawmakers.
She said Duke, which already operates two nuclear plants in South Carolina, continues to view new nuclear power generation as a “viable, carbon-free option to meet our customers’ electricity needs.”
As of Sept. 30, Duke had spent almost $507 million on pre-construction work for the proposed plant, according to Dukes Scott, executive director of the Office of Regulatory Staff, the state agency charged with protecting the public interest in utility matters.
He said Duke could ask state regulators for permission to recover 25 percent of that cost from its South Carolina ratepayers even if it ultimately abandons the project.
Jim Cook, economic development director for Cherokee County, said the power plant would be a “game changer” for the county if it ever gets built.
But Cook said he’s not holding his breath.
“We’re not counting on it,” he said. “We’d love to have it. We’d love to see it, but we’ll see that when it happens.”
If Duke winds up abandoning the project, it would be the second time it has abandoned a nuclear power plant on the same property.
The company left behind a huge concrete bowl when it stopped building the first proposed nuclear power plant in the early 1980s amid soaring costs.
Later, the bowl was used to film underwater scenes from the 1989 movie “The Abyss,” directed by James Cameron.