NH investment firm seeks Alcoa’s NC dams license

  • Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013 8:21 p.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — A New Hampshire investment firm is challenging Alcoa Inc.’s bid for a new federal license to operate dams along one of North Carolina’s largest rivers, demanding that federal regulators recognize circumstances have changed since the relicensing process started more than a decade ago.

New Energy Capital Partners filed a petition this past week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission arguing that Alcoa closed the smelter where nearly 1,000 people once worked after a 2006 deadline to compete for the license passed. Alcoa said in 2010 its smelter along the Yadkin River powered by the four dams would close for good, though aluminum production shut down years earlier. Since then, Alcoa has sold the electricity produced on the wholesale market and kept any profits.

Former Govs. Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue resisted Alcoa’s quest for a new operating license of up to 50 years. Perdue’s administration said the licensing battle was about the need to control a key water source for one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing states and the chance to attract companies to one of North Carolina’s job-scarce regions by offering low-cost electricity. New Gov. Pat McCrory hasn’t taken a stand on the issue.

Failure by FERC to recognize the changed circumstances would violate federal law, since rivers are deemed public resources and their use for hydroelectric power must consider the public benefits, New Energy Capital’s filing said. If an Alcoa subsidiary, Alcoa Power Generating Inc., is granted a new operating license, Alcoa would be poised to sell it for a huge price tag, the filing said. The company last year sold its four dams on the Little Tennessee and Cheoah rivers in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina for about $600 million.

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