Friday, May 25, 2018
Business

Florida legislative leaders soften stance on nuclear advance fee law

State legislative leaders continue to soften Tallahassee's once-rock-solid support for a law that allows utilities to charge customers in advance for new nuclear projects.

This week, House Speaker Will Weatherford told reporters that the law did not produce the kinds of results in boosting nuclear power that lawmakers anticipated when they passed the measure in 2006.

Known as the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause, the law gives utilities such as Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light incentives to hasten construction of nuclear plants and increase power at existing ones.

In South Florida, FPL touts the law as helping to add 500 megawatts of power — the equivalent of a small reactor — to its Turkey Point power station for about $3 billion.

Duke, on the other hand, remains saddled with almost $2 billion in expenses related to an upgrade project at the Crystal River plant in Citrus County and the preliminary planning and development of the proposed Levy County nuclear plant.

The $24 billion Levy County project has cost customers $1.5 billion so far, while improvements at the crippled Crystal River nuclear plant have cost $457 million. Neither project is expected to produce any electricity for years, if ever.

"Obviously, no one can be happy with the way we find ourselves today with regard to nuclear cost recovery," Weatherford told the Miami Herald. "There have been some unexpected things that took place. The cost of natural gas has plummeted — not a bad thing. We had the situation in Japan. We also had an economic downturn. So what looked like a great idea in 2006, in hindsight, may not have been."

The comments by Weatherford, whose district is in Duke's service area, follow remarks that Senate President Don Gaetz made to the Tampa Bay Times' editorial board Jan. 18 that no legislation addressing the advance fee had been filed yet in his chamber, but he would "make sure it gets a full debate, gets considered. Absolutely."

"I would certainly hope that somebody from your legislative delegation here who lives with this problem and whose constituents live with this problem would file such a bill so that the issue could be brought to the head," Gaetz said.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, filed a bill in the House to repeal the law. Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has attempted to repeal the law for years, is co-sponsoring the House bill.

And freshman Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, also is backing the repeal. Dudley beat former Rep. Frank Farkas last year, largely campaigning to repeal the law.

Until this year, legislative leaders have not publicly given serious consideration to changing the law. For the past 18 months, the Times has been detailing the impact of the advance fee, including how Duke Energy will pocket $150 million from customers for the Levy project, even if it never builds the plant.

Times staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.

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