- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Duke Energy has a new hydropower license to manage the Catawba River for the next 40 years but wants that license extended so it can manage the waterway for the next half century.

The Charlotte Observer reports that (http://bit.ly/1QoQ8dE ) during three years of negotiations, the utility agreed to protect additional land in the river basin if it got a 50-year license.

But last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave Duke only a 40-year license.

The Catawba River flows about 240 miles from the North Carolina mountains to near Great Falls, South Carolina where it becomes the Wateree River, according to the Catawba Riverkeeper website. Most of the Catawba is dammed and an estimated 2 million people live in the river basin.

Duke has proposed spending $100 million to protect more land from development, put in fish passages around dams and increase water releases downstream from dams.

But the government said such steps only merit a shorter license term.

“We believe the requirements in the new license and the (agreement) are at least equal to other hydro projects which received 50-year new licenses,” Duke spokeswoman Jennifer Jabon said.

The river supplies about one quarter of the utility’s generating capacity in the Carolinas. The government values the electricity generated from the river at $89 million a year and estimates Duke’s costs at $70 million annually.

Duke has already spent $13 million to protect nearly 5,400 acres in the Catawba basin.

It is now planning dozens of recreational projects, including new swimming areas, canoe and kayak access points as well as camping sites and trails.

Duke said it is reviewing the 157-page license. The utility has a month to ask the government for a rehearing on the term or any other aspect of the license.

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