RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Gov. Pat McCrory needs more time to decide whether to grant Alcoa Inc. a new 50-year operating license for four dams that once powered an aluminum plant and provided local jobs but are now used solely to generate electricity sold by the company, a state attorney said.
In a federal regulatory filing this week, a state attorney said McCrory took office just four months ago and needs time to get up to speed on the relicensing issue that involves job creation, electricity revenues, and water access on the Yadkin River east of Charlotte.
"The governor and his advisers have not yet had an adequate opportunity to consider these public policy issues," Special Deputy Attorney General Faison Hicks wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Alcoa had used the dams since World War I to power a riverside aluminum plant, but the plant closed down years ago. The Pittsburgh-based company now sells the electricity to commercial customers and keeps the profits. 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 based her argument on the fact that the reason Alcoa got the license in the 1950s was 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.
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.
McCrory said a year ago while running for office that he believed the dams should produce low-cost energy that could lure industry and jobs to the region, and that Alcoa needed to keep promises made in the original lease before the license was renewed. He urged federal regulators in 2008 to consider why Alcoa should get a new Yadkin license when the smelter jobs were gone and the state was coping with a historic drought.
The request to give McCrory more time to consider the relicensing issue comes after New Hampshire-based investment firm New Energy Capital Partners asked the regulatory commission to let it challenge Alcoa's relicensing bid. New Energy Capital suggested it could pay Alcoa for dams, electric transmission lines and other infrastructure investments as required by federal law, operate the dams and sell the electricity for a limited time, then turn over ownership and control to North Carolina.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio