Tuesday, January 16, 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Does that mean the law will get repealed?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
Some fear Spa Beach billowing net sculpture could catch birds and storms

Some fear Spa Beach billowing net sculpture could catch birds and storms

By WAVENEY ANN MOORETimes Staff WriterST. PETERSBURG ó International artist Janet Echelman may have fulfilled her $75,000 feasibility contract with the city and previewed her billowing, parasol-inspired sculpture for Spa Beach, but for some, key ques...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco plans industrial site on utility property

Pasco plans industrial site on utility property

DADE CITY Ė Commissioner Jack Mariano remembers the message from economist William Fruth.Just seven months after Mariano joined the commission in 2004, Fruth, of Palm City, told the countyís elected and appointed officials that Pasco should explore d...
Published: 01/16/18
Help wanted: Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa has 250 jobs to fill

Help wanted: Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa has 250 jobs to fill

TAMPA ó Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is holding a hiring event next week to fill more than 250 positions. The event will take place in the Hard Rock Cafe from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 24. Available positions include culinary, beverage, hotel, spa, ...
Published: 01/16/18
Modern game room fosters family approach

Modern game room fosters family approach

SPRING HILL Ė While no board games are evident at NeverBoard Gaming Community, the strategy and competitiveness of game playing are in full force, with the latest digital hardware modernizing the pursuit.The NeverBoard shop, a venue for video gaming ...
Published: 01/16/18
Airbus could abandon A380 superjumbo amid lackluster sales

Airbus could abandon A380 superjumbo amid lackluster sales

New York TimesThe days may be numbered for the worldís largest passenger aircraft.Airbus, the European aerospace group that makes the A380 superjumbo, said Monday that it would have to end production of the plane if its only major customer, Emirates,...
Published: 01/15/18
The closing of 63 Samís Club stores has big implications for small business

The closing of 63 Samís Club stores has big implications for small business

Special To The Washington PostLast week, Walmart announced that it would be closing 63 of its under-performing Samís Club stores at various locations throughout the country, including a South Tampa location.PREVIOUS COVERAGE: South Tampa Samís Club i...
Published: 01/15/18
Brawny pickups, futuristic SUVs star at Detroit auto show

Brawny pickups, futuristic SUVs star at Detroit auto show

Associated PressDETROIT ó Itís the year of the pickup truck at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit as General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Ford unveil new trucks in a fast-growing and highly competitive U.S. auto market. Fiat Chry...
Published: 01/15/18
2017 still a deadly year for Tampa Bay pedestrians, bicyclists

2017 still a deadly year for Tampa Bay pedestrians, bicyclists

Another year gone, another year that Tampa Bay was one of the most dangerous places in the country for those walking or riding their bikes.More than 100 people were killed walking in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in 2017, according to sta...
Published: 01/15/18
If Floridaís offshore oil rush ever happens, only one side of the state is likely to see it

If Floridaís offshore oil rush ever happens, only one side of the state is likely to see it

The offshore drilling rigs that pepper the central Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana and Texas tap some of the nationís richest oil and natural gas reserves.That proven and profitable productivity is why the energy industry has pushed for decades to open ...
Published: 01/14/18
Large crowds grab deals as Samís Club prepares to close South Tampa location

Large crowds grab deals as Samís Club prepares to close South Tampa location

TAMPA ó Large crowds have gathered to snap up some deals before the Samís Club in South Tampa closes its doors for good on Jan. 27.On Thursday, the retailer announced it was closing dozens of stores, including a location at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway...
Published: 01/13/18