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Robert Trigaux

As U.S., Florida demand for electricity wanes, can we rethink building overpriced nuclear plants?




Do we really need these Levy County nuclear power plants sought by Duke Energy-owned Progress Energy Florida? They are priced at an astonishing $24 billion to build - a cost sure to rise sharply by the mid 2020s when they could become operational. Electricity demand is waning in America and Florida. Maybe it's time to rethink this before more billions are wasted on a plant that will never be built.

Wake up and good morning. If it does not seem absurd for Progress Energy Florida customers to be forced to pre-pay for much of the proposed (but still not committed to by Progress owner Duke Energy) Levy County nuclear power plants, consider this. If the $24 billion price tag (sure to rise swiftly in coming years) does not dissuade you, how about new reports that say the U.S. demand for electricity is waning?

In other words, will we really need all that electricity that a new nuclear plant will generate when alternative and vastly less expensive forms of generation (natural gas, alternative energy and most of all, conservation and improving efficiency in electric use) would do the trick in a better managed energy industry?

The federal Energy Information Administration now projects that U.S. electricity use will rise just 0.7 percent a year for households and 0.6 percent for industrial users. Read more in this Wall Street Journal story that states: "That's a far cry from the middle decades of the past century, when utilities could rely on electricity consumption growing more than 8 percent a year."

Ah ha, you may argue, surely electricity demand will soar when the economy picks up steam again! Really? The same Journal story notes: "For decades, electricity use was used as a barometer for economic growth, but the link has become less clear cut in recent years, partly because of a big push to make major appliances and other products, like compact fluorescent light bulbs and high-efficiency motors, that use less electricity."

Want more input? Read another Wall Street Journal story out this week headlined Why Are Americans Using Less Electricity?

And consider this insight from the Florida PSC's own report, out in December, called Review of the 2012 Ten-Year Site Plans For Florida's Electric Utilities. It states: "Between 2012 and 2021, the average annual growth rate for residential customers is projected at 1.26 percent, slightly below last year's projection of 1.37 percent for 2011 through 2020, and down significantly from the 2.36 percent seen for the period 2002 through 2007."

If the Florida Public Service Commission and the Florida legislature that controls it were not puppets of big power companies (Who are the biggest campaign contributors in Florida? The power companies.), the Sunshine State would pursue a far less antiquated strategy for assuring the state has plenty of electricity and affordable electricity in the future. Alas, that common sense approach is buried miles beneath the campaign cash that keeps Tallahassee so blissfully pliable -- and big power companies still profiting from their increasingly outdated 20th century investments.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

[Last modified: Friday, January 4, 2013 8:41am]


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