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FERC Issues First Set of Nantahala Area Hydro Licenses May 4, 2011

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Work on recreation and habitat enhancements on the way – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today issued two of six new federal hydro licenses to Duke Energy for Nantahala Area hydro stations, which kickstarts processes for a variety of public recreation and aquatic habitat enhancements in the Tuckasegee River watershed.

The licenses issued today cover hydro developments on the East Fork (Tanasee Creek, Bear Creek and Cedar Cliff hydro stations) and West Fork (Thorpe and Tuckasegee hydro stations) of the Tuckasegee River. Licenses for hydro stations on the Nantahala River watershed and others are expected soon.

“This first batch of new licenses is a credit to all who worked together to develop comprehensive plans for balancing numerous water needs. We value their insight and are deeply grateful to their commitment to this effort,” said Steve Jester, vice president of Hydro Strategy, Licensing and Lake Services. “From our initial review of the new licenses, it appears stakeholders' interests have been addressed, while preserving the area’s clean, renewable hydroelectric generation.” 

Between 2000 and 2003, Tuckasegee and Nantahala Cooperative Stakeholder Team members invested more than 9,000 person hours visiting sites, guiding study needs, reviewing reports and collaborating to address environmental concerns and public recreation needs. The Nantahala and Tuckasegee settlement agreements are key to successfully relicensing the hydro stations.

The two legally binding agreements, signed in 2003, are the work of stakeholder teams representing 30 organizations, including Duke Energy. Settlement agreement provisions that FERC excluded as new license requirements will be implemented by Duke Energy in accordance with the agreement.

Once all of the licenses are issued, a series of steps can begin to have a recreation facilities plan and other documents approved by the FERC. At that point, likely about two to three years from now, Duke Energy can begin implementing enhancements throughout the life of the new licenses, which include:

  • Increased continuous minimum flow releases for the Nantahala and Tuckasegee rivers, enhancing some of the most popular catch-and-release trout streams in the Southeast
  • Special flow releases on a few days each year for high-skill boating downstream from Nantahala and Glenville dams
  • New or enhanced public access areas on the Nantahala and Tuckasegee rivers
  • Improved Nantahala Gorge boating access, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service
  • Transfer of about 150 acres of Duke Energy property upstream of Wolf Creek Lake to the U.S. Forest Service for enhanced public recreation and protection of native brook trout habitat
  • Canoe portages around dams at the Bryson (Oconaluftee River), Franklin (Little Tennessee River) and Mission dams (Hiwassee River) and Western Carolina University-owned Cullowhee Dam
  • Primitive camping, handicapped-accessible docks, restrooms, improved parking and other improvements at larger lakes

These physical improvements will require more than $10.5 million of new Duke Energy investment.

“The relicensing process is good public policy. It allows an open, formal review of specific projects, rivers, public recreation needs and new scientific information so we can arrive at the appropriate balance among all interests,” Jester said.

The new 30-year FERC operating licenses just issued are on the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County and the Oconaluftee River in Swain County.

The pending licenses are on the Hiwassee, Little Tennessee and Nantahala rivers. These cover 12 hydro reservoirs and nine hydroelectric stations primarily in Clay, Macon and Swain counties. Their combined installed generating capacity is about 98.5 megawatts. This is about 99.5 percent of the total Duke Energy hydro generation in the Nantahala area.

The remainder is from Queens Creek Hydro Project in Macon County, which received its initial license in 1976 and was relicensed in 2002.

Project reservoirs are in Clay County (Mission Lake); Jackson County (Bear Creek, Cedar Cliff, Glenville, Tanasee Creek, Tuckasegee and Wolf Creek lakes); Macon County (Diamond Valley, Dicks Creek and Whiteoak Creek reservoirs, Lake Emory and Nantahala Lake); and Swain County (Lake Ela). A very small portion of Nantahala Lake is also in Clay County.   

Customer demand for electricity in the 1,729-square mile Nantahala Area outgrew this local hydro generation in 1971. During the peak hour of electric demand by the nearly 72,000 Duke Energy customers in these rugged mountains in mid-December 2010, more than 75 percent of their energy came from Duke Energy power plants located outside the Nantahala Area.

The Duke Energy facilities here, and many others operated by different utilities across the nation, needed FERC licenses after a 1965 federal court case broadened the licensing requirement to include more projects located on tributaries of navigable rivers. Federal operating licenses have been required for non-federal hydro projects on navigable rivers since the 1920s.

In 1980 and 1981, FERC issued initial licenses to Nantahala Power and Light Company, which Duke Power purchased from Alcoa in 1988. With new licenses issued, these Nantahala Area hydro projects have completed their first relicensing process. 

Duke Energy is one of the largest electric power holding companies in the United States. Its regulated utility operations serve approximately 4 million customers located in five states in the Southeast and Midwest, representing a population of approximately 12 million people. Its commercial power and international business segments own and operate diverse power generation assets in North America and Latin America, including a growing portfolio of renewable energy assets in the United States.

Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Duke Energy is a Fortune 500 company traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol DUK. More information about the company is available on the Internet at:

Contact: Fred Alexander
Phone: 828-421-4534
24-Hour Phone: 800-559-3853

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