Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

Florida House representative files bill to repeal advance fee for building nuclear plants

The latest effort to repeal the advance fee collected from utility customers to build new nuclear power plants began its move through the Legislature on Wednesday.

State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahasee, who described the advance fee as an unfair "tax," said a growing coalition of lawmakers support the bill she filed.

Whether the bill reaches the finish line during the next legislative session remains a question.

"I can't say for sure that this is going to be an easy lift … but I think it's got a much better chance," Vasilinda said.

When lawmakers — led by Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey — began working to repeal the law three years ago, legislative leadership refused to give it consideration.

But the ongoing collection of the fee by Progress Energy Florida and its parent company, Duke Energy, has angered many of the utility's 1.6 million customers. The utility is using the law to collect money for a proposed $24 billion nuclear plant in Levy County but has not committed to actually building it.

By Dec. 31, the utility will have collected $750 million from customers for the project. Altogether, Duke Energy has spent more than $1.1 billion on the Levy project and will collect the balance on those expenses over the next four years — even if the plant never gets built.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, defeated Republican incumbent Frank Farkas in November's election largely by campaigning to overturn the law.

Other lawmakers "agree that something should be done," Dudley said. "They're whispering about it. I'm screaming about it.

"We're going to keep screaming until leadership sees this for what it is."

State lawmakers passed the advance fee legislation in 2006 as a way to promote construction of new nuclear plants. The state wanted to diversify the mix of energy production, which is dominated by natural gas. State leaders worry that electric bills might spike with a sudden increase in the volatile price of natural gas, now at almost historic lows.

In addition to the legislative efforts to repeal the law, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an environmental and consumer group, has asked the state Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional. The court has not made a decision.

Vasilinda said the state is picking winners and losers by focusing attention on nuclear at the expense of Floridians and economic development.

"It discourages other kinds of innovation," Vasilinda said. "It keeps folks from getting into the game because you have invested so much into nuclear. … I think we are in a time of reform."

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