Monday, July 06, 2009

Yadkin River Trust bill up for hearing Tuesday

A state House committee has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow on a Senate-passed bill that would create a Yadkin River Trust to operate the hydroelectric plans now owned and operated by Alcoa Power Generating Inc. The hearing before the House Water Resources and Infrastructure Committee on Senate Bill 967 will be at 2 p.m. in room 1228 of the Legislative Building in Raleigh -- but it's notable that no action is planned. The House calendar says the session will be for discussion only. If the bill get the committee's approval, it will also have to go to two more committees -- the Public Utilities Committee and the Finance Committee -- before it can go to the House floor for consideration by the full House.

The bill has a formidable journey before it, in other words, especially at this juncture of the 2009 session. On the other hand, the House and Senate don't seem to be rushing to a conclusion. They're at odds over how to raise more revenue to balance the 2009-10 budget, and no once expects a quick adjournment. For another thing, this bill has a remarkable coalition of Republicans and Democrats favoring it. In the Senate, it included Majority Leader Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, and Minority Leader Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. In the House, the bill's backers include former House Speaker Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, and Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, senior chairman of the House Finance Committee. There are a lot of Republicans and Democrats behind this bill, which indicates that it isn't a partisan political battle.

It's a fascinating subject because it involves a legislative attempt to create a way to recapture the Yadkin River hydroelectric generating plants that Alcoa and its predecessors have operated for a long time on the Yadkin. Alcoa once employed as many as 1,000 people at its Badin aluminum smelter, but the plant is closed now and there is a relative handful of employees left. Alcoa sells the power it generates on the open market; those backing the bill in the legislature want the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny issuing another license to Alcoa to continue operating the plant. Its 50-year license expired last year, and the company is close to getting a license renewal. But lawmakers backing the Yadkin River Trust don't think the company should be allowed to continue operating the plant without the significant workforce it once had. They point to the 1957 licensing process when the employment was cited as a major reason for granting the license.

It's also interesting from this standpoint: Alcoa is a going business and if the bill becomes law it would put the state in the position of purchasing and operating a business whose owner doesn't want to sell. But the Federal Power Act has long contemplated the "recapture" of a facility on public trust waters if a license is denied. That clause has never been invoked, and this could be the first time. What's not clear is how much the recapture would cost -- and how it would work out financially.

Gov. Bev Perdue has intervened in the federal process, and likely would sign the legislation creating the Yadkin River Trust if it passes the legislature.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Santee Cooper in South Carolina makes a contribution every year to the state treasury, while providing some of the lowest power rates in the country. Low cost energy entices new manufacturing jobs to the area. The same could work for NC.

The Yadkin River is a water resource like an oil well that you cannot pump dry. And water access is a key issue within this Alcoa debate. Does North Carolina really want its governor asking Alcoa for the right to use its own water? This would be the case for the next 50 years if Alcoa is granted a new license. Scary but true.

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