Appeals court rejects Duke Energy’s bid for 50-year license to manage Catawba River

Appeals court rejects Duke Energy’s bid for 50-year license to manage Catawba River
Water pours into the Catawba River from the bottom of Lake James at the Linville Dam near Morganton. A federal appeals court has denied Duke Energy’s bid for a longer federal license to manage the Catawba. (John D. Simmons | Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Bruce Henderson/The Charlotte Observer) - A federal appeals court has denied Duke Energy's bid for a longer federal license to manage the Catawba River, the source of energy, water and recreation for the Charlotte region.

The federal license lets Duke control 225 miles of the Catawba with a series of dams and reservoirs. It gives the company authority to manage lake levels, release water downstream and decide whether piers may be built.

Duke's initial license expired in 2006. It asked for a 50-year renewal, the maximum federal law allows. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission instead granted a 40-year term in 2015.

Duke appealed that decision, arguing that FERC had granted longer licenses to other utilities with similar hydro projects. The federal agency bases license length on the degree of development, new construction or environmental protection measures it requires.

Duke argued that it had spent $54 million on new construction it had agreed to in negotiating proposed terms of the license, and another $111 million in costs of pursuing the Catawba license.

FERC disagreed in 2016, writing that "the nature and extent of these measures are not unusual for a large-sized project like the (Catawba project), and are similar to those required in other recent licenses that received 40-year terms."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday denied Duke's petition for review of the FERC decision.