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Duke says sale of Tuxedo power plant preserves whitewater recreation

TUXEDO — Duke Energy Carolinas announced this week the sale of its hydroelectric plant at Lake Summit and four others in the region, a move that whitewater paddlers are watching with interest.

The Tuxedo Hydroelectric Project is highly unusual in that flow releases and reservoir levels are not currently dictated by state or federal permits, a statement from American Whitewater said. "Duke Energy has voluntarily evolved its operation over nearly a century to strike an effective balance of uses of the limited water supply to meet the needs of electric customers, lake neighbors and reservoir and river recreationists."

Duke Energy ensured in terms of the sale to protect the recreational value of the Green River, the American Whitewater and the utility company said in statements on the sale.

"To ensure flow releases in the Green River will continue to serve the public interest following the sale of the project, a robust recreational flow schedule very similar to the 2018 schedule, an online 3-day flow forecast (i.e., same day plus 2 days ahead), and an annual stakeholder meeting will be required of the new owner through a lease agreement with the Lake Summit Property Owners Association," American Whitewater said. "The lease will take effect and the details will be made public upon the sale of the project, and will run for 5 years with two 5-year renewals available to the property owners. This arrangement will thus serve as a bridge to future non-regulatory or regulatory management."

Duke is selling the five small hydroelectric plants in Western Carolina region to Northbrook Energy. The facilities, which have a combined 18.7-megawatt generation capacity, are Bryson, Franklin and Mission hydro stations in the Nantahala area, and Tuxedo and Gaston Shoals hydro stations in the Green/Broad River Basin. Duke will purchase all the energy generated by these facilities for five years through power purchase agreements with Northbrook Energy, the buyer.

“This sale will deliver long-term benefits for our customers and shareholders,” said Randy Herrin, Duke Energy Vice President, Carolinas Regulated Renewables. “Over the past few years, the cost to operate these facilities has risen significantly. Through this transaction, the plants will continue to serve our customers with clean renewable energy, but at a lower cost.”

Northbrook Energy is a privately-held, independent power producer that has been in the hydroelectric business for more than 30 years. The company operates hydro assets in 12 states, including the Carolinas. Closing is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2019.

Over the past several months Duke Energy has met with stakeholders to gather information on the effects the Tuxedo Project has on regional interests, including recreation-related visitors and businesses. American Whitewater worked to preserve flow release schedule that's essential to paddlers of all ability levels and requested that these benefits continue under new ownership. The Green River and the renowned Green River Narrows attract tens of thousands of visitors each year from around the region and the world, support summer camps and outfitters, and have attracted several outdoor recreation-related businesses to the region.

American Whitewater thanked Duke Energy for listening to concerns expressed by American Whitewater and other paddling leaders, and for respecting the interests of the paddling community.

"We look forward to working with Northbrook Energy, the Lake Summit Property Owners Association, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and other stakeholders including the Green River paddling and fishing communities to ensure this non-regulatory approach is implemented in a way that works for the Green River and all its enthusiasts," the organization said.