Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Business

CFO Atwater: refund advance fees if nuclear plants are not built

A state Cabinet member says utilities should refund any money they collected in advance from customers for proposed nuclear plants if the projects no longer make economic sense or will be abandoned.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said utilities should not be allowed to spend customers' money unchecked.

"Programs must be structured so companies are held accountable and are incentivized to mitigate financial losses," Atwater said through a spokeswoman. "If the projects are no longer viable or pursued, the dollars collected should be returned back to consumers."

Atwater's comments follow a report Sunday in the Tampa Bay Times that detailed how Progress Energy profits from the collection of a fee charged to customers to plan and develop a $22.4 billion nuclear power plant in Levy County — though it has not decided whether it will build the plant.

Atwater was one of the lawmakers who helped push the legislation when it was passed in 2006. But he says he did so only as a courtesy for another senator.

Former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Crystal River, said in a Times Opinion page piece this week that Atwater amended the energy bill to add the fee at the behest of the bill's sponsor, Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs. She wrote that many senators did not understand what the amendment did at the time.

"There was no mention of prepay costs recovery on the Senate floor," Argenziano stated. "Had there been, that might have alerted some senators of the major policy shift and that the fox was in the henhouse."

The Senate voted 39-0 for bill; the House approved it 119-1.

Current Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is chairman of the energy committee, has refused to reconsider the legislation.

Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he'd have to review the law before deciding whether he supports Atwater's suggestion that utility customers be reimbursed. He said part of the intent was to help diversify Florida's energy mix. But, he asked, "How do you do that? How do you pay for that.

"I think the whole issue needs to be studied and looked at," said Weatherford, who was not in the Legislature when the bill passed. "We can probably do that between now and next session."

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