TALLAHASSEE — Progress Energy came under fire Wednesday from critics who say its $17-billion plan to build a pair of nuclear reactors in Levy County offers few guarantees to consumers forced to pick up the tab.
The St. Petersburg utility has yet to sign a contract for its reactors. Its cost estimate remains nonbinding. The utility argued against a spending cap. And Jeff Lyash, Progress Energy president and CEO, said Wednesday that he couldn't say when he'd pull the plug if costs soared higher.
On Wednesday, the Florida Public Service Commission convened the first of three days of hearings to determine whether Progress Energy can justify the electricity need for building two 1,100-megawatt reactors several miles north of Crystal River, and whether nuclear is the best and cheapest option.
Leon Jacobs, an attorney representing the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Progress Energy's cost estimate for nuclear is "pure speculation." He said the utility has overestimated demand and failed to factor in energy-saving measures on the horizon, such as solar hot water heating and energy-efficient appliances and construction.
The utility has also failed to prove that nuclear is the most cost-effective option, said James Brew, an attorney representing White Springs Agricultural Chemicals, a Progress Energy customer that uses large amounts of power.
Brew argued that the record on nuclear is "virtually screaming" that Progress Energy's cost estimate isn't realistic. It will take customers 30 to 60 years to reap any cost savings from nuclear, he said.
Alex Glenn, counsel for Progress Energy, countered by enumerating the benefits of a nuclear option: It emits no carbon dioxide, the culprit behind global warming. The fuel cost is cheaper and more stable than that of natural gas. And the utility has done all it can do to conserve electricity.