Federal appeals court denies North Carolina’s claim to Yadkin River hydropower projects

Yadkin Hydropower Project

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a claim by North Carolina that it owns rights to the bottom of the Yadkin River, upon which sits four hydropower projects the state has tried to wrest control of for years.

The 2-1 decision made this week by the 4th Circuit rejects a claim made by the state in August 2013 that said North Carolina should be entrusted with control of the riverbed, given that the 50-mile long stretch where the plants are located was navigable when North Carolina attained statehood in 1789. 

“The Yadkin River is a North Carolina river,” former Gov. Pat McCrory said at the time. “We should be able to use it for North Carolina water needs and to create North Carolina jobs. The benefits of the Yadkin River belong to North Carolina’s people.”

The rejection is the latest in a string of failed efforts by the state to gain control of the Yadkin project, which is comprised of the 108-MW Narrows, 38-MW Tuckertown, 33-MW High Rock and 31-MW Yadkin Falls plants.

Construction of the projects began in 1915 by aluminum smelting company Alcoa, which held a 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license that expired in April 2008.

The license’s expiration sparked a years-long attempt by the state to take over the project after the state argued Alcoa closed its Badin, N.C., aluminum smelter that had been powered by Yadkin, moved the jobs overseas, and retained the four-plant hydro project to sell its electricity.

The state repeatedly balked at granting the project Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification, which is necessary before FERC could relicense the project. Previous Gov. Beverly Perdue also unsuccessfully urged FERC to reject Alcoa Power Generating’s relicense to allow the state to take ownership of the project.

A North Carolina administrative law judge overturned the state’s denial of water quality certification in June 2015, leading to Yadkin being relicensed last September.

Cube Hydro Carolinas LLC purchased Yadkin from Alcoa last July.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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