As Duke Energy's Rogers meets PSC today, tradeoffs in energy choices gain focus
The Crystal River energy complex, which includes a nuclear power plant and multiple coal-fired plants, is No. 1 in a new Natural Resources Defense Council ranking. Read on... (Photo: Will Vragovic, Tampa Bay Times.)
Wake up and good morning. Today's the day executive coup-winner Jim Rogers (AP photo, right) -- "old" Duke Energy CEO now CEO once again of "new" Duke Energy -- appears in Tallahassee before the Florida Public Service Commission. The issue? What to do with the crumbling Crystal River 3 nuclear power plant that Duke just inherited thanks to its purchasing Progress Energy. So, CR3: Repair it or retire it? Love it or list it?
The energy world is complex because we seem to want a lot of conflicting things at the same time. We want cheap electricity. We want safe electricity. We don't want power plants in our neighborhoods. We want clean air so we are moving away from cheap but messy coal. We like natural gas now that is cheap but worry we may start relying too much on a single fuel to fire our generators for electricity. We tolerated nuclear power when power companies could build them for less than staggering prices and run them efficiently. Now we have neither with nuclear. The plants are either broken and possibly too expensive to fix, like CR3. Or the new ones, at least in the Tampa Bay market, are ludicrously priced as we have witnessed with the proposed Levy County plants sought by Progress Energy (now Duke Energy). Add on the most absurd legislation in a generation -- a 2006 state law allowing power companies like Progress (now Duke) to simply charge customers in advance to construct a nuke plant, even if it never gets built -- well, it's small wonder monopoly power companies can be so easily reviled.
Check out this Tampa Bay Times coverage of the energy dilemma -- a column, an opinion editorial and this reporting on the impact on Citrus County should CR3 be closed -- to get a good feel for the range of issues that the Florida PSC and Duke's Rogers should be dealing with today.
Now let's complicate things even more. Here comes a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council that, while praising the power industry's improving track record in reducing air pollution from power plants, identifies Florida as 6th worst for states in air pollution. While that's pretty pathetic, it's actually an improvement from the year before when Florida ranked 3rd worst among all states.
The chief cause for improving air quality is the shift by power companies like Duke and Progress Energy from coal-fired plants to those run by less-polluting natural gas. Now pro-nuke power companies like Duke and Progress Energy argue that natural gas still pollutes the air. They also argue that natural gas is in too much vogue because its prices are so low (for now) due to fracking and other newly adopted ways to extract natural gas domestically. And finally, they would argue that nuclear power does not pollute the air while operating, making it in that sense even friendlier than natural gas. What the power companies gloss over is the extraordinarily lethal nuclear waste that is generated by nuclear power plants -- radioactive waste which, at this point, the United States still does not know how to store or dispose of. Nor at what no doubt astonishing cost.
So check out the Natural Resource Defense Council report. It's especially notable that the No. 1 power plant polluting the state (mostly because of its sheer size) is the Crystal River complex in Citrus County. Let's be clear. it's not the CR3 nuke plant there that is the air polluting culprit but the multiple coal-fired power plants there. Those coal plants, by the way, are the same ones Progress Energy promised to do away with -- if and when its new nuclear power plants in Levy County (several miles north of CR3) are ever built. Which is looking less and less likely.
Such are the just some of the constant and no-easy-solution tradeoffs that abound in the energy world. And we did not even touch on the world of renewables like solar power.
Today, though, all eyes should be on Duke's Rogers and the Florida PSC meeting in Tallahassee.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times