Under federal law, rivers are deemed public resources, and their impoundment for the generation of hydroelectric power must be approved by the federal government under a licensing process administered by FERC.
Last week, the Appellate Court for the District of Columbia ruled against Alcoa’s petition requesting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proceed with issuing the company a new license to continue operating its dams along the Yadkin River. This ruling was not the final determination concerning who will own and operate Alcoa’s dams and reservoirs in the future, but rather just the latest chapter in a protracted – and for many people, confusing – battle over the future of an important natural, cultural and economic asset.
The following excerpt from an article written by Jeff Michael, UNC Charlotte, Urban Institute, with photos by Nancy Pierce, is intended to help the average person better understand the underlying issues involved, and some of the potential resolutions to a complex public policy decision.
The “battle for the Yadkin”, as some have called it, has emerged as one of the Charlotte region’s most fascinating public policy debates in years. At stake are four dams and reservoirs originally built to supply electricity for an aluminum smelting plant operated by Alcoa for over seventy-five years in the Stanly County town of Badin. With the smelting plant now closed, Alcoa has continued operating the dams through a subsidiary, Alcoa Power Generating Inc. (APGI), under a 50-year license issued by the United States government in 1957. Since the power generated by APGI is no longer needed to operate the aluminum smelting plant, it is now sold on the open market at competitive rates as a profit-generating activity for the company.