FERC renews operating license for Yadkin River hydropower facilities in N.C.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued an operating license that will allow four hydroelectric facilities in central North Carolina to continue producing electricity until 2055.

The FERC decision announced on Sept. 22 may have an effect on the court actions between Alcoa Inc. and North Carolina officials to continue operating four Yadkin River hydropower facilities: The 31-MW Yadkin Falls, 108-MW Narrows, 38-MW Tuckertown and 33-MW High Rock plants.

Cube Hydro Carolinas LLC reached an agreement with Alcoa Power Generating Inc. in July to purchase and upgrade the four hydropower projects for an undisclosed price. Maryland-based Cube Hydro specializes in running clean-power projects.

Prior to this sale, North Carolina filed a lawsuit challenging Alcoa’s ownership of the riverbed and a second lawsuit was filed by an investment group. Both cases are scheduled to be heard in federal appeals courts in the next two months.

The facilities were built beginning a century ago to power an aluminum smelter that once employed 1,000 people. Alcoa closed the factory in 2007, but the company has made about US$200 million since the closure by selling electricity to commercial customers.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his Democratic predecessor, Beverly Perdue, have fought Alcoa’s efforts to renew its federal operating license for the dams.

Inexpensive energy from the dams on the state’s second-largest river system could generate thousands of jobs in an otherwise underdeveloped region, both governors said, and the water is an important supply for North Carolina’s 10 million residents.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for HydroWorld.com.

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