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Bipartisan pair call Florida's nuclear plant fee 'hidden tax'

On the eve of a Supreme Court hearing on a challenge to the law that forces utility customers to pay in advance for new nuclear plants, opponents called the fee an unconstitutional "hidden tax."

"We're having (customers) spend their dollars on a nuclear power plant that will never be built," state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said during a conference call. "We're not even sure that we need any of these power plants."

Vasilinda formed a bipartisan pair with Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to support a legal challenge to the law before the Supreme Court today. They were joined on the conference call by an official from the AARP and Roseann Minnet, mayor of Lauderdale by the Sea and chairwoman of the Broward League of Cities Sustainability Committee.

The group is backing the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is challenging the constitutionality of the law. The environmental group argues the law is too broad and gives state regulators and the utilities too much power to take money from customers without sufficient accountability.

Progress Energy Florida and Florida Power & Light, the state's two largest utilities, want to build two new reactors and are charging their customers in advance for the projects, though it remains unclear whether the plants will ever be built.

The two utilities have collected about $1 billion so far and the state Public Service Commission has approved further charges totaling hundreds of millions more.

The PSC says that the law, created to promote new nuclear plants and diversify the state's energy mix, is constitutional and the appropriates checks and balances are in place.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments from the Southern Alliance, which will have 30 minutes to make its case, and from the commission and the two utilities, which together will have 30 minutes to argue theirs.

A decision by the court to overturn the law would scuttle efforts to build new nuclear plants and force the state to revamp its energy policy.

Fasano said that while he voted for the law when it was passed in 2006, he now opposes it because of several flaws. For instance, he said there is no requirement that the utilities ever build the plants or refund customers' money.

"A tax is being imposed upon the people within the service area with absolutely nothing guaranteed," Fasano said. "I'm hoping that will be looked at closely by the Supreme Court."

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

Bipartisan pair call Florida's nuclear plant fee 'hidden tax' 10/03/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 10:30pm]
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