Duke Energy to Citrus County: Expect still-lower tax payments

Duke Energy told Citrus County that if it decides to retire the broken Crystal River nuclear plant, the county will be paid as little as $10 million in taxes, far less than the $35 million billed to Duke.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Duke Energy told Citrus County that if it decides to retire the broken Crystal River nuclear plant, the county will be paid as little as $10 million in taxes, far less than the $35 million billed to Duke.

Duke Energy told Citrus County officials this week that the $16 million reduction in tax payments the utility made for 2012 will continue in 2013.

And if Duke decides to shut down the crippled Crystal River nuclear plant, the utility said its tax payments could go even lower.

In a letter Wednesday to the Citrus County government and the local newspaper, Alex Glenn, president of Duke subsidiary Progress Energy Florida, said the company was informing officials of its plans because of the "commitment to Citrus County."

"We recognize this is a difficult issue and that we are all facing significant challenges," Glenn wrote. "We are committed to working through these issues efficiently and amicably, and continuing the relationship that has provided so many mutual benefits for generations."

In November, Duke paid $19 million on a $35 million property tax bill to Citrus County and sued the county over the difference. Duke argued that the Citrus County property appraiser had placed too high a value on the broken Crystal River nuclear plant and pollution-control systems on two of its coal plants.

Duke Energy's taxes make up 26 percent of the tax base in Citrus County.

The decision not to pay the full tax bill plunged the county into a budget crisis. The loss of revenue forced a more than $8 million (3.4 percent) cut from the current school budget and more than $7 million (3 percent) from the County Commission's budget.

In his letter, Glenn said that if the utility decides to retire the nuclear plant, Duke's total tax payment could fall to between $10 million and $13 million.

The letter raised the ire of the county property appraiser's office, which maintains it is working to resolve the tax dispute.

"We don't want to be in this fight," said Avis Marie Craig, a spokeswoman for the property appraiser office.

The tax dispute continues to fuel growing speculation that Duke will permanently close the Crystal River nuclear plant.

Earlier this month, a ratings agency and a financial analyst stated that they believe Duke will retire the plant.

Jim Rogers, chief executive officer of Duke Energy, told the Charlotte Observer this week that he expects the utility to make a decision about the plant's future in February.

Duke says its letter to Citrus County about the taxes was not an indication of what any decision about the nuclear plant's future might be.

"We want to ensure that we are providing them information every step of the way," Grant said. "I think the letter stands on its own."

Crystal River has been out of service since fall 2009, when it went offline for a maintenance and upgrade project. During the project, the reactor's 42-inch-thick concrete containment wall cracked. Attempts to repair the crack and bring the plant back online resulted in more cracks.

It could cost $1.5 billion to $3.4 billion to repair the plant, plus $300 million year to purchase alternative electricity.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

Duke Energy to Citrus County: Expect still-lower tax payments 01/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 10:45pm]

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