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A series of stories about the Yadkin River and Alcoa's fight to keep control.

NC Challenges Alcoa's New License For Yadkin Dams

An Alcoa dam on Badin Lake.
Julie Rose
A Yadkin River dam run by Alcoa. align=left

The battle over hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin River is about to go another round. The state of North Carolina asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Monday to reconsider  approval of Alcoa Inc.'s dam operating license.

FERC approved the new 39-year license on Sept. 22. The previous license expired in 2008 and Alcoa had been operating under 1-year permits since.  

The series of dams stretches from Davie County south to Stanly County, east of Charlotte. They once powered Alcoa's aluminum smelter in Badin, which had 1,000 employees.  

In its request for a rehearing, the state argues that the new license isn't in the public interest. It says the commission failed to consider that the smelting operation has been shrinking for years, and has been completely shut since 2010.

That violates a promise Alcoa made when it won its initial operating license in 1958, to maintain employment at the site, the state says. 

The company now sells the electricity to other customers, which the state argues is a major change since Alcoa first applied for the new license in 2006.

"The Commission has taken the erroneous position that Alcoa Power's decision where to sell project power is not a relevant issue," the state wrote in its appeal.  

The state also questions whether it was appropriate for FERC to approve the new license while Alcoa is in the midst of selling the project. Alcoa announced a deal in July to sell the dams to Cube Hydro Partners of Maryland.

North Carolina's opposition to the relicensing is part of a wider dispute over Alcoa's dam operations.

State officials have a long-running legal dispute with Alcoa, challenging its claim to ownership of the riverbed near the dams. A federal court last fall ruled in favor of Alcoa, but the state has appealed. The case is now pending at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where oral arguments are scheduled Thursday morning.


Alcoa Inc. web page on the Yadkin River hydro project, http://www.alcoa.com/yadkin/en/info_page/home.asp

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.