Friday, September 21, 2018
Business

Duke Energy strikes deal to lower customer bills, boost solar

TALLAHASSEE — Duke Energy Florida customers will finally stop paying for a nuclear power plant that's not being built.

Under a proposed settlement filed with regulators Tuesday, Duke's 1.8 million customers will not have to pay off the remaining $150 million for the Levy County nuclear project. That could trim $2.50 off the average monthly bill.

But there will be no reimbursement for the roughly $800 million that ratepayers have already paid toward the project that was abandoned four years ago — before it even got off the ground.

Related Coverage: Trigaux: Who is Duke Energy Florida and what have they done with that arrogant utility?

Harry Sideris, president of Duke Energy Florida, defended the already-paid 800 million as previously justified expenses and dismissed concern of the $150 million, which will be on Duke's books as a write-off shouldered by the public company's shareholders.

"We feel like the cost of Levy being written off is a small price to pay for moving forward," Sideris said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

“All of the Levy nuclear costs are gone for good," said Charles Rehwinkel, an attorney with the Office of Public Counsel in Tallahassee who advocates for consumers. "Customers won't see another penny of those costs."

The far-reaching settlement with environmental and consumer groups — which will still need to be approved by the Florida Public Service Commission — also marks a major policy shift for Duke. The North Carolina-based utility is effectively giving up its long-held belief that nuclear power is a key component to its Florida future and, instead, making a dramatic shift toward more solar power.

Duke plans to add 700 megawatts of solar power over the next four years as part of Tuesday's announcement. Customers will not be charged for the power until 2019.

"Our company is really focused on a cleaner, smarter energy future, and gas and renewables are the path to that," Sideris said.

Included in the settlement are Duke, the Office of Public Counsel, Florida Industrial Power Users Group, Florida Retail Federation, White Springs Agricultural Chemicals Inc. and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The parties began working in January toward a pact that effectively ends all litigation over the aborted nuclear power plant.

What the settlement means for Duke customers is that their bills may be going up a bit less than the utility forecast just last week.

Under the new filing, the rate hike would be $123.90 per 1,000 kilowatt hours, a 4.6 percent increase from the current rate. This would supersede the 8.5 percent increase Duke filed for last week, which would raise customer bills to $128.54 per 1,000 kilowatt hours.

Even with the lower increase, Duke remains the highest-priced major utility serving the greater Tampa Bay area.

The issue over customers being charged in advance for a nuclear power project has long been controversial. Duke's predecessor company, Progress Energy, said the Levy County nuclear facility was intended to reduce energy costs for decades, so long as customers paid up front to help the project come to fruition faster.

But the power plant was never built, despite consumers being charged for almost $1 billion in up-front costs. In 2013, the project was formally scrapped.

Previous Coverage: Rate hikes ahead: Duke Energy seeks 8.5 percent, Tampa Electric a more modest 1 percent bump

Spreading the costs

Under the new filing, customers also won't have to pay for underestimated fuel costs all at once as was stipulated earlier this year. Instead, fuel cost recovery for $196 million will be spread over the next two years.

Customers are still on the hook to pay an average of $1.52 each month for a power-increasing project at the now-defunct Crystal River nuclear power plant. Progress Energy, Duke's predecessor, botched a repair on the facility, leading to its premature shutdown. The power-increasing or "uprate" project was put into place before the plant was shuttered. Customers will continue to pay for the project through 2019.

No more nuclear — for now

Sideris elaborated on several ways Duke is moving away from nuclear power. The utility will allow the Levy nuclear license to expire, he said. The land where the project would have been is being "evaluated (for) options," according to Duke spokesperson Ana Gibbs. "(Duke) will make decisions based on the best interests of our customers and community," she said in an email.

Instead, Duke will continue with a heavy reliance on natural gas, a diminished use of coal and a greater push toward solar.

When asked if that meant no nuclear in the future, Sideris said Duke was still leaving the door open for the power source if it became more cost effective or other factors changed in the future.

The first 75 megawatts of Duke's 700 megawatts of solar power will be in Hamilton County in North Florida. It will come online by early 2019.

When the full 700 megawatts are completed, Duke will have about 720 megawatts in Florida, totalling about 8 percent of Duke's generation capacity.

Beyond increasing solar generation, Duke also is investing in 50 megawatts of battery storage to research how to store solar energy.

PRIOR COVERAGE: Nuclear vs. natural gas. Which is cheaper?

PRIOR COVERAGE: Duke Energy cancels proposed Levy County nuclear plant.

The PSC is expected to decide on the proposed settlement by December.

Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo on Twitter.

Comments
Tampa General nurses record the last heartbeats of dying patients, making a family memory

Tampa General nurses record the last heartbeats of dying patients, making a family memory

TAMPA — As John Reisinger waited with family at Tampa General Hospital, grief settled in like a fog. So some of the details are hazy.But he remembers the moment when three women in white lab coats approached him.The day before, his niece, Jessica Rau...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Retro Fitness sets first of several area locations in Citrus Park

Retro Fitness sets first of several area locations in Citrus Park

In early fall, Retro Fitness will open a 17,000 square foot fitness facility in Citrus Park, and it plans for more Tampa Bay area locations.Founded in 2005, Retro Fitness has 153 clubs throughout the United States and is the official fitness center o...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Joe and Son's Olive Oils, a legacy Ybor business, finds new roots in Carrollwood

Joe and Son's Olive Oils, a legacy Ybor business, finds new roots in Carrollwood

Andrea Gebbia grew up in Carrollwood, and now she is bringing the family business to the neighborhood of her youth.In late fall, Joe and Son’s Olive Oils is slated to open a second location."I feel so blessed having the ability to grow my...
Updated: 10 hours ago
The guys who brought you Tampa’s Armature Works plan high-end offices next door, and they’ve already signed a lease with med-tech company AxoGen

The guys who brought you Tampa’s Armature Works plan high-end offices next door, and they’ve already signed a lease with med-tech company AxoGen

TAMPA — Coming soon from the developers who brought you the Armature Works: Heights Union, two high-end office buildings next door to the trendy food hall, event space and co-working complex overlooking the Hillsborough River.Developers said Friday t...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea looks to succeed where others failed

Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea looks to succeed where others failed

RIVEVIEW – Amy Lin knows that her newest Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea store is in a location where previous businesses have not lasted.The short-lived Tap’s Brewhouse & Deli and even shorter-lived Top Shelf Sports Bar and Grill tried to r...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Walmart is teaming with a Seminole Heights chef to promote locally grown mushrooms

Walmart is teaming with a Seminole Heights chef to promote locally grown mushrooms

TAMPA — It might seem like an unlikely match from the outside: A distinguished chef with a restaurant known for inventive plates using produce shoppers can find at… Walmart?Walmart, the country’s largest grocer, is known for having a core consumer wh...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Federal loans open to Pinellas businesses struggling against Red Tide

Federal loans open to Pinellas businesses struggling against Red Tide

The U.S. Small Business Administration has extended its disaster loan program to include Pinellas and Pasco county businesses affected by Red Tide.Already, the Pinellas County Economic Development Office was taking applications for bridge loans to he...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Watch: A southern white rhinoceros calf just a week after being born at ZooTampa

Watch: A southern white rhinoceros calf just a week after being born at ZooTampa

TAMPA — A southern white rhinoceros gave birth to a calf at ZooTampa on Sept. 12, marking the sixth successful birth of the species in the zoo's history. In a news release, ZooTampa said southern white rhinoceroses are a nearly threatened spec...
Published: 09/21/18
Baggers, cashiers soon can grow beards at Publix

Baggers, cashiers soon can grow beards at Publix

ORLANDO — The faces of baggers, cashiers and stockers at a Florida-based grocery chain may look slightly different in the near future.That's because Publix said Friday that it would start allowing workers to grow beards and other facial hair b...
Published: 09/21/18
They spent $15,000 adding a driveway to their St. Pete House. Now the city says they can’t park on it

They spent $15,000 adding a driveway to their St. Pete House. Now the city says they can’t park on it

ST. PETERSBURG — One day in January, Dana Cremo was on her front porch hanging a vintage screen door when two city employees walked up. "You can’t park on your driveway," they said. "Why?" she asked. "Because somebody filed a complaint," they said. F...
Published: 09/21/18