Feds dump NH firm's bid for Alcoa NC dams license

Emery p. Dalesio, AP Business Writer
May 30, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Federal energy regulators on Thursday rejected a New Hampshire investment firm's bid to pose as a challenger to Alcoa Inc. for a new license to operate dams along one of North Carolina's largest rivers.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said New Energy Capital Partners LLC can't enter the Yadkin River licensing case six years past a 2007 deadline.

"When a party fails to intervene in a timely fashion, the party assumes the risk that the case will be settled in a manner that is not to its liking," the FERC responded in a filing signed by Commission Secretary Kimberly D. Bose.

The energy regulator did not rule on New Energy Capital's request to reopen the entire relicensing process, and the investment firm will ask the FERC to reconsider its decision, attorney M. Curtis Whittaker said.

Alcoa's dams along nearly 40 miles of the river once powered an aluminum smelter, but the Stanly County plant that once employed nearly 1,000 started closing down a decade ago and shuttered for good in 2010. The Pittsburgh-based company now sells the electricity to commercial customers and keeps any profits.

Hanover, N.H.-based New Energy Capital argued that a new operating license of up to 50 years would allow Alcoa to sell the dams.

Alcoa last year sold its four dams on the Little Tennessee and Cheoah rivers in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina for about $600 million. Alcoa received a new 40-year license for the Tapoco dams project in 2005, shut down production at the nearby smelter in Alcoa, Tenn., in 2009, and last year announced the smelter's permanent closing.

Alcoa executives have declined to say whether the company planned to sell the Yadkin dams or any other asset.

"I don't think you could ever get a global company to say that an asset will stay in its portfolio forever," Alcoa chief sustainability officer Kevin Anton told The Charlotte Observer on Wednesday. "We like hydro assets. We do strategic reviews and determine what should stay there."

Alcoa estimated in 2006 that the dams generated almost $44 million a year in revenues. Over 50 years, that could mean revenues of more than $2 billion, an amount that could multiply if demand for clean power booms.

In 2009, former Gov. Beverly Perdue urged the regulatory commission to give the state permission to claim the operating license for the dams. She said North Carolina officials supported Alcoa's license application in the 1950s because it employed hundreds at its Stanly County smelter, but that plant closed and the jobs are gone.

Inexpensive energy resulting from public control of the dams could produce thousands of jobs in the coming decades, and as water supplies tighten for North Carolina's 9.5 million residents, it is important that the state have the freedom to use the river's water, Perdue said.

An attorney for Gov. Pat McCrory said earlier this month he hasn't had enough time to consider the issues and decide his position on relicensing.

The federal regulatory commission has never rejected the renewal of a hydroelectric operating license. If it did so in this case, Congress would have to decide whether a state or municipal body should take over the hydroelectric project, after compensating Alcoa.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio