Thursday, April 26, 2018
Business

Charging Florida utility customers in advance for nuclear power plants likely to persist

It was supposed to save Duke Energy's customers millions of dollars. It was supposed to make building the Levy County nuclear plant both faster and cheaper.

Instead, the 2006 Florida law — which lets utilities charge customers up front for building a nuclear power plant — could cost Duke's customers $3 billion in return for nothing.

That's the customers' share of a combined tab for advance charges tied to the Levy County nuclear project that was scuttled this week, along with Duke's abandoned efforts to fix its severely damaged Crystal River nuclear plant.

Several politicians past and present were quick to blame easy money from the advance fee for the runaway costs.

"I think it's outrageous," former governor and potential gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said Friday. "I think they've made the greatest case one could make for never doing (the advance recovery fee) again."

Does that mean the law will get repealed?

"I'm afraid not," Crist said.

His political prediction is a popular one. Both backers and opponents of charging ratepayers in advance say it's likely the law will live on, giving Florida Power & Light a ready funding source for building two nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, a potential $20 billion project.

"The chance of us ever repealing this, unfortunately, is still slim to none," said state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of the more ardent critics of the prepay plan. "The power that Florida Power & Light has and Duke has in Tallahassee is just too overwhelming."

Some doubt that lawmakers will even bring up the measure after it was tweaked last session with modest changes that Scott signed into law in June.

The revised law states that if a utility cannot demonstrate that it plans to complete the construction of a nuclear plant, it will no longer be allowed to collect money. The utility has 10 years after it gets its license to begin construction or lose access to the fee.

The new law says the utility must prove that a plant is both economically "feasible" and "reasonable" to continue moving forward with a project.

Even after the changes, the law still does not require utilities to refund any of the money they spend before canceling a project. In the Levy case, that lets Duke pocket about $150 million in profits, even though it's canceling the project.

Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said he wishes the law had a clawback provision that would make utilities refund ratepayer dollars spent on projects that are later canceled. Shy of that, however, Legg said he thinks the revised law has "significant improvements" to help hold utilities accountable.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-New Port Richey, said the up to $1.5 billion of ratepayer money spent by Duke and Progress Energy on Levy was "unconscionable. I feel like the consumer has been taken advantage of."

Nevertheless, Simpson said that last year's revisions may be sufficient to stop future "egregious" abuses.

Like Legg, Simpson backed a clawback provision that was included in a Senate version of last session's bill but failed to garner support in the House. It's unclear whether another attempt at a clawback clause would fare any better.

House Speaker Will Weatherford's office did not return requests for comment Friday. John Tupps, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, would not say whether the Legislature should re-examine the law.

"We are confident that the Public Service Commission will make the best decision for Florida consumers," Tupps said in a statement, declining to elaborate.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, who won election over an established politician largely by campaigning to overturn the fee, vowed to keep fighting, regardless of the odds.

"I'm going to continue to raise holy hell about that fee. It is wrong," he said.

"Consumers are not shareholders. They should not be put in the shoes of investors when they're just users of electricity … and they're a captive audience. The power company has a monopoly, (so) we don't have a choice of who we can pick."

It may be an uphill battle in Tallahassee, Dudley said, but he takes heart in the "monumental" victory of Duke's pulling the plug on the Levy plant to stop more ratepayer money from being drained.

"With the drumbeat getting louder and louder for repealing the fee, we're starting to reach a critical mass where they can't continue doing what they're doing," he said. "The yelling and screaming so far, even though it brought about small change, it brought about change."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242.

Comments
Cities turn to private inspectors as construction booms, and problems follow

Cities turn to private inspectors as construction booms, and problems follow

ST. PETERSBURG — With construction booming throughout Florida, private inspectors are increasingly reviewing the work of building contractors. But that has sometimes led to missed code violations and other problems.Now the city of St. Petersburg is r...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Amazon raising price of annual Prime membership to $119

Amazon raising price of annual Prime membership to $119

NEW YORK — Amazon is raising the price of its annual Prime membership fee by 20 percent starting next month. The company said Thursday that Prime members in the U.S. will now pay $119 a year, up from $99, starting May 11 for new members. The new pric...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Almost half of all homes for sale in Tampa Bay are unaffordable for first-time buyers

Almost half of all homes for sale in Tampa Bay are unaffordable for first-time buyers

Times Staff WriterAlmost half of all homes on the market in the Tampa Bay area are unaffordable for many buyers. According to Zillow, 48.7 percent of homes for sale are "high-end --- more than $348,0000 in Tampa Bay -- while just 20.5 percent are "l...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecast in first quarter

Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecast in first quarter

TAMPA — Growing sales at Outback Steakhouse have once again led parent company Bloomin’ Brands to beat Wall Street’s expectations, the latest quarterly report shows.But the Tampa-based restaurant group’s other chains are failing to keep up. Bloomin’ ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Focus crossover and Mustang will be only Ford sedans sold in North American dealerships

Focus crossover and Mustang will be only Ford sedans sold in North American dealerships

DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday it will shed most of its North American car lineup as part of broad plan to save money and make the company more competitive in a fast-changing marketplace.The changes include getting rid of all cars in...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Domino’s lifts curtain on ‘pizza theater’ in Lutz

Domino’s lifts curtain on ‘pizza theater’ in Lutz

LUTZ — Domino’s new ‘pizza theater’ store recently opened in Lutz, just outside of the Ballantrae subdivision. The store features the open-concept pizza theater design which offers viewing of the food preparation process.There is also a comfortable l...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Engaged couple opens chiropractic practice for all ages on W Hillsborough Ave

Engaged couple opens chiropractic practice for all ages on W Hillsborough Ave

TAMPA — Dr. Kaylee Canalungo and Dr. Kace Groff were attending Palmer College of Chiropractic in different states when a mutual friend introduced them. After graduating and working together at a chiropractic office in New York, they are engaged to be...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Clean Juice gets 3rd spot in Hyde Park Village

Michelle Piniella forecast about another South Tampa Clean Juice location in March, and now it’s official. The healthy, fresh juice concept has secured a lease with Hyde Park Village.The opening date is to be announced this summer as it is currently ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Cuban cuisine transformed at Armature Works

Cuban cuisine transformed at Armature Works

DOWNTOWN — Felicia Lacalle says cuban cooking is in her blood as she traditionally learned from her mother growing up. Since then she has perfected her craft finding ways to recreate classic dishes with a modern twist and now she aims to change the C...
Updated: 11 hours ago
PolitiFact: False claim circulates about Allegiant Air offering 2 free tickets

PolitiFact: False claim circulates about Allegiant Air offering 2 free tickets

The statement"Allegiant Air is rewarding everyone with 2 free plane tickets to celebrate April Aviation Week!"Bloggers, April 22 in a blog postThe rulingContrary to a false claim on a phony website, Allegiant Air is not offering two free tickets in e...
Updated: 2 hours ago