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Robert Trigaux

Another new nuclear power plant being considered in Florida, this time on Panhandle




Gulf Power's service territory (that's 1, 2 and 3 above) covers most of the Florida Panhandle. A possible nuclear power plants would be built in the northwestern portion of "1" near the Alabama border.

Wake up and good morning. What's this? Another new nuclear power plant for Florida?

Still well off the radar of most Floridians, Gulf Power, the investor-owned utility that dominates electricity service in the Florida Panhandle, is reportedly considering building its own nuclear power plant in the westernmost county of Florida. That's near Pensacola and the Alabama border.

So here's the question: Is Gulf Power serious about a nuclear power plant in Florida at a time when (1) nuclear power's skyrocketing costs are being reconsidered and (2) the forecasts for new electricity demand seems to be dipping below what was earlier anticipated?

Or (and pardon my skepticism), might Gulf Power recognize that power companies seeking giant projects like nuke plants in Florida have been given the Ultimate Gravy Train by the Florida legislature? Thanks to a 2006 law, utilities like Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light can simply charge their ratepayers in advance for much of the astronomical costs associated with building nuke plants -- now priced at around $10 billion apiece but guaranteed to rise more than that in the coming years?

It would be folly and bad corporate competitiveness for Gulf Power to miss out in joining that no-risk funding gimmick. Let the ratepayers cover our costs! Even if Gulf Power decides not to follow through -- just as Progress Energy still sits on the fence in deciding to really build new nuke plants in Levy County -- doesn't it make sense to say you are considering a nuke plant just to get in line for risk-free funding?

The exact location would be Escambia County. "By 2012, Gulf Power expects to finish buying 4,000 acres of land near McDavid that could eventually be home to a nuclear plant or perhaps another type of power plant," reports the web site. McDavid is north of Pensacola and I-10, south of I-65 and just west of the Blackwater River State Forest.

Here's what the Pensacola News Journal has reported so far: "Gulf Power Co. has moved in, taken out the checkbook and is buying up land hand over fist. The Pensacola-based utility paid (James and Elizabeth) Comalander $175,000 for their property. The couple have plans to move their home to another Bluff Springs site they bought with the proceeds. Gulf Power has selected the high ground around Bluff Springs, south of Century and a few miles west of U.S. 29, as the potential site for a new power-generating plant. Over the past 18 months, it has spent more than $3.37 million accumulating 756 acres through 14 purchases, according to Escambia County property records.


"The utility, a division of the giant Atlanta-based Southern Co., is looking for land on which to build a plant to supplement or replace the coal-fired Crist Plant, spokeswoman Sandy Sims said. It's 'looking at everything — solar, wind, biomass, gas-fired and nuclear,' with construction probably 10 to 15 years away, she said."

Southern Co. already has plans to add a third and fourth nuclear power plants to its Vogtle facility in southern Georgia. This plans are well ahead of both Progress Energy's talk of building a new nuke plant (with two reactors = $20 billion and counting)  in Levy County north of Tampa Bay and Florida Power & Light's plans to add two more nuke units in South Florida. 

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times (soon to be the Tampa Bay Times.)




[Last modified: Monday, November 14, 2011 7:35am]


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