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Duke seeks NC OK for $459M to prep SC nuke plant

RALEIGH — Duke Energy Corp.’s top executive urged regulators Tuesday to allow it to keep laying groundwork for a potential new $11 billion nuclear plant.

The Charlotte-based company wants regulators to let it spend up to $459 million in development costs, which could be passed on to consumers before the South Carolina site starts producing electricity.

As radiation leaked from a nuclear power plant wracked by an explosion and fire in tsunami-devastated Japan, Duke CEO Jim Rogers told the North Carolina Utilities Commission that Duke depends on nuclear power to meet projected rising electricity demand and climate change worries.

The hearing is part of a lengthy process. The company wants permission to invest an additional $287 million in development costs through 2013, when Duke expects to land a construction license for its proposed nuclear plant in Cherokee County, S.C. The company has already been allowed to spend $172 million.

South Carolina regulators will take a similar look within months at whether to allow the development spending. Almost 70 percent of Duke’s Carolinas customers are in North Carolina and more than 30 percent in South Carolina.

Rogers’ testimony also sets the stage for a pending fight in the General Assembly, where friendly lawmakers are preparing legislation that could allow nuclear plant construction costs to be assessed to electricity ratepayers even if a project is never completed.

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