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NC launches new challenge to Alcoa’s Yadkin license

By Emery P. Dalesio

AP Business Writer

RALEIGH  — North Carolina wants the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to withdraw its renewal of Alcoa Inc.’s operating license for a series of hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin River, saying regulators should consider the state’s interest in “a full and fair competitive relicensing process.”

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his Democratic predecessor, Beverly Perdue, have for years fought Alcoa’s efforts to renew its federal operating license for the dams, which powered an aluminum smelter that once employed 1,000 workers before Alcoa closed it in 2007. Since then, Alcoa has made about $200 million selling the electricity to commercial customers.

The holder of the operating license largely determines how much water to release from the dams on the state’s second-largest river system, which provides drinking water for many of North Carolina’s 10 million residents. The state believes inexpensive energy generated by the dams also could generate thousands of jobs in an otherwise underdeveloped region, but would lose the opportunity to influence that growth with FERC’s renewal.

State attorneys asked FERC late Monday to revisit its September decision allowing the dams in central North Carolina to keep generating electricity for sale until 2055. That renewed license may have made the hydroelectricity complex more valuable as Alcoa sells it for an undisclosed price to a private-equity-backed entity called Cube Yadkin Generation LLC.

Alcoa in 2012 sold a similar hydroelectric dam complex at a former smelter site on the North Carolina-Tennessee border for about $600 million after receiving a new 40-year operating license from FERC.

Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office said state officials supported the dams’ initial construction and Alcoa’s first license from the Federal Power Commission — the FERC’s predecessor — because they meant jobs. The commission is ignoring the fact the jobs are gone, state attorneys said.

“By these actions, Alcoa violated the deal it made with the Federal Power Commission and the people of North Carolina in 1958 — a deal which enabled Alcoa to become the licensee in the first place,” the state’s attorneys wrote. The FERC “ignored these critically important historical and legacy facts and how they bear upon the public interest in this relicensing proceeding.”

FERC’s decision also comes before McCrory’s administration is finished contesting whether Alcoa ever owned the riverbed on which the dams were built, state lawyers said. That issue is set to be argued on Thursday before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

The appeal follows a decision by a federal judge in Raleigh last year that North Carolina waited too long to challenge the river bottom ownership, since Alcoa and its predecessors began building the Yadkin complex nearly a century ago.

A separate investment group, New Energy Capital Partners, that wanted to bid for the federal license also asked FERC on Monday to reconsider its renewal decision. That group is scheduled to be heard in a federal appeals court in two weeks.

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