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Florida AARP joins suit to overturn nuclear fees to utilities

Florida's largest nonpartisan, nonprofit senior organization joined a lawsuit Thursday to overturn a state law that requires utility customers to pay in advance for new nuclear plants.

In opposing the advance nuclear fee, the Florida AARP said many of its members already face difficulty meeting rising utility costs on their low and fixed incomes. To add fees for proposed nuclear plants that might never get built, the organization said, is an undue burden.

"During this period of economic hardship, the rising cost to provide current electric utility service is severe enough to raise alarm," the AARP stated in a brief to the Florida Supreme Court.

The AARP submitted the brief in support of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an advocate for energy efficiency and clean energy.

In December, Southern Alliance filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court, appealing decisions by the state Public Service Commission in 2011 that allow utilities to continue to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in nuclear construction fees for plants that may never be built. The alliance also argues that the law is unconstitutional.

The AARP's brief follows one filed earlier this week by two state senators and two representatives, who also oppose the advance fee.

The legislators joined the Southern Alliance for a media conference call Thursday to discuss their opposition to the state law, which the Legislature passed in 2006 to hasten construction of new nuclear plants in Florida.

Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light, the state's two largest utilities, are seeking federal licenses to operate two new nuclear reactors each. Progress is further along in the development of its proposed project on 5,000 acres in Levy County. But neither utility has committed to building the nuclear plants. Progress has spent $1.1 billion of customers' money developing and planning the $22.4 billion project, which has been delayed several times and won't come online until after 2021, if at all.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said during Thursday's conference call that he was troubled that the Republican Party supported what amounts to "one of the largest taxes approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, a Republican governor."

Fasano said he and other lawmakers voted for the legislation based on nuclear plant costs of $6 billion, not the $22.4 billion Progress now says the project will cost.

Added Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness: "I am concerned that this is more than a tax. This is abuse."

But former Rep. Jerry Paul, a nuclear engineer and lawyer, said nuclear fee opponents have more of a political agenda than concern for consumers.

Paul, who was in the Legislature when the nuclear fee was passed, said the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy simply opposes all new nuclear power, regardless of how it is paid for.

"What I heard on this call was people fighting multiple battles dressed up as an attack on pay-as-you-go financing," he said. "To this notion that Florida adopted this law because of lies, that is not true. I haven't seen anyone say here's something that has been lied about."

Paul said utilities should be held accountable for how they handle customers' money, but that should be a separate issue from whether the law is good policy.

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

Florida AARP joins suit to overturn nuclear fees to utilities 04/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 12, 2012 9:17pm]
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