Make us your home page

Fate of nuclear fee depends on disparate House, Senate bills

TALLAHASSEE — Florida legislators continued to fast-track two proposals on Tuesday to rework the unpopular nuclear fee on customer utility bills, but activists warned that the two plans could have drastically different impacts on customers.

The House bill (PCB 13-01) will allow Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light to continue collecting the controversial nuclear fee to pay for the development of power plants, even if the plants never get constructed. The Senate plan, SB 1472, could end the fee if the utilities fail to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — a process that the federal government has currently put on hold.

Since 2006, when lawmakers passed the nuclear cost recovery statute to encourage development of nuclear power, Florida customers of Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light have paid an estimated $1.5 billion in fees to pay for the development of future nuclear power plants. Both the Senate and House bills could put an end to development of additional nuclear power plants outside of the existing proposals, but each takes a different approach to the current projects.

"The Senate has a framework to impose a series of new decision points that say it's much better to walk away from the $1.5 billion we've already spent than to waste another $35 billion more,'' said Mark Cooper, a senior fellow with the Institute for Energy and the Environment at the Vermont Law School, who has analyzed the bills. "The House does exactly the opposite."

Progress Energy has charged customers more than $1 billion to expand the now-crippled Crystal River nuclear power plant and to start developing a new nuclear power plant in Levy County. The company terminated the Crystal River project, but has kept $150 million of the money in profits from all its projects. Florida Power & Light collected $530 million from the nuclear fee and used the money to finance expansions to its existing power plants at Turkey Point and in St. Lucie County. It has also proposed building two new reactors at Turkey Point, but has not obtained a permit to do it.

Florida's utility companies have said they oppose any change to the current law, but did not make any formal statements at Tuesday's hearings.

Voter discontent with Progress Energy's troubled power plant has prompted four bay area senators to take the more aggressive approach to revamping the law, although they have stopped short of repealing the proposal.

Under the Senate bill, after the utility obtains its license for the nuclear plant it must petition the Public Service Commission before it can get approval to charge customers for any additional costs associated with the plant's development.

"If we had this bill in place six years ago, the issues dealing with the Progress Energy Levy plant, instead of being an $800 million project, it would have been significantly lower,'' said Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, a Senate bill sponsor.

Susan Glickman, lobbyist for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is pushing for alternatives to nuclear power, said effectiveness of the Senate bill "depends upon how rigorous the Public Service Commission is in their review."

The Senate Community Affairs Committee voted unanimously to approve the bill.

By contrast, the House takes a more inclusive approach — allowing the companies to continue business as usual but imposes new rules on future nuclear projects. It adds a requirement that utilities include a line item on each customer's utility bill showing how much is going toward nuclear construction.

The House Regulatory Affairs Committee rejected a series of amendments by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, that would have forced state regulators to consider alternatives to nuclear power before imposing the nuclear fee. "It keeps us from picking winners and losers,'' she said.

But House Republicans, many of whom were elected on the strength of the utility industry's campaign contributions, have flatly rejected using the rewrite of the nuclear fees law to allow for any competition to the utility giants. Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, House Energy and Utilities Committee chairman, said the process regulators go through "is already pretty extensive" and the changes are not needed.

Both bills change the interest rate the utility companies can charge customers to pay for planning and development of the nuclear plants, saving an estimated $800 million over the 20-year life of the construction process.

The Senate bill also allows the PSC to authorize a rebate to customers in certain circumstances, but neither Legg, nor Curt Kiser, the general counsel for the Public Service Commission, could conceive of any scenario that would allow customers to receive a refund.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at and on Twitter@MaryEllenKlas

Fate of nuclear fee depends on disparate House, Senate bills 04/16/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 8:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rick Scott appoints 'my friend,' Jimmy Patronis, as Florida CFO

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed a long-time friend and political supporter, Jimmy Patronis, to replace Jeff Atwater as Florida's next chief financial officer, making him one of three members of the Cabinet that sets state policy on a wide range of issues. He'll take over Friday.

    Rick Scott appoints Jimmy Patronis (background) as CFO. [STEVE BOUSQUET | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Local gas prices plummet as Fourth of July holiday travel approaches


    TAMPA — Local gas prices are enjoying an unseasonal dip around the $2 mark just in time for the hectic Fourth of July holiday travel weekend.

    The price of regular unleaded gasoline has dropped to $1.99 at a Rally station on Pasadena Ave. South and Gulfport Boulevard South, South Pasadena.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Air bag recalls, lawsuits lead Takata to file for bankruptcy


    Shattered by recall costs and lawsuits, Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. filed Monday for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., saying it was the only way it could keep on supplying replacements for faulty air bag inflators linked to the deaths of at least 16 people.

    Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. CEO Shigehisa Takada bows during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of defective air bag inflators.
[(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi]
  4. Airbag maker Takata bankruptcy filing expected in Japan, U.S.


    DETROIT — Japanese airbag maker Takata Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of faulty air bag inflators.

  5. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]