North Carolina regulators want Duke Energy to account for what it has spent on a South Carolina nuclear power plant that is facing new doubts after the company that was supposed to supply the reactors filed for bankruptcy.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission is giving the country's largest electric company 60 days to explain how much of the $520 million spent on the Lee nuclear plant it anticipates passing along to the state's consumers.
About 70 percent of the costs and future electricity allocation of the proposed Lee plant would go to North Carolina consumers, with the rest bound for South Carolina customers. The North Carolina regulator wants to know why Duke Energy apparently blew past a $120 million cap the commission set in 2011 for the state's ratepayers.
If the subsidiary building the plant, Duke Energy Carolinas, has run up costs beyond that limit for its North Carolina share, the company must "explain how this occurred without the commission's approval," the order issued Monday said.
The commission also wants to know what the Charlotte-based utility plans to do if the bankrupt Westinghouse Electric Co. can't provide the reactors the plant was designed around.
Westinghouse said in March that it had financing to maintain its operations and continue work on four nuclear reactors it is helping to build in South Carolina and Georgia. Construction at both the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville, South Carolina, and Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia are behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
The North Carolina commission issued this week's order in response to questions raised by NC WARN, a Durham-based clean-energy advocacy group that is a frequent company critic.
The Westinghouse bankruptcy "looks like a real problem for Duke Energy. It is clear to us they have no credible path forward on this project," NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren said Wednesday.
Duke Energy will respond to the utilities commission, spokeswoman Rita Sipe wrote in an email.
Duke Energy received a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to build and operate the Lee plant near Gaffney, South Carolina, in December. The company hasn't made a final decision to proceed with the $11 billion project, the biggest construction project in company history.