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Florida Senate to hold hearing Monday to address advance nuclear fee law

State lawmakers on Monday will for the first time consider a proposal to change the law that allows utilities to charge customers in advance for new nuclear plants that may never get built.

The Senate's energy committee has scheduled a hearing on one of two bills in the Legislature that would change the law.

The bill to be heard Monday would create a sunset date for the law. If utilities don't begin construction of a new nuclear power plant before Oct. 2, 2016, the advance fee would end.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. John Legg, R-Pasco County, also proposes a reduction in the amount the utilities can pocket from the money they collect through the nuclear advance fee. If passed, the bill would require utilities to refund money they pocket from the fee if they never build the plants.

Duke Energy customers already are on the hook for $1.5 billion for a proposed $24 billion plant in Levy County that the utility has delayed for almost a decade and has not committed to build. Duke gets to pocket about $150 million of that money.

A separate bill in the House would repeal the fee completely. Representatives say utilities are just taking customer money for nothing.

"Every one of us knows that the nuclear plants will never be built," said Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "I can't for the life of me understand how they can allow a rate, tax or fee when nothing will be built."

Lawmakers in 2006 passed the legislation as a way to hasten construction of nuclear plants. They wanted to diversify the state's energy mix to prevent a reliance on natural gas, which could fluctuate in price and send customers' electric bills soaring.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said reports in the Tampa Bay Times about the fee have angered voters, who often complain to him about the charges.

In addition, political newcomer Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, won election over an established politician, largely campaigning to overturn the fee.

On Thursday, opponents attacked the law during a media conference call about the economic troubles of nuclear plants.

Mark Cooper, an economist with Vermont Law School, called the nuclear advance fees "sweetheart deals by state legislatures" designed to shift risk of nuclear construction to customers when Wall Street refuses to fund them.

The hearing Monday will include presentations from the Nuclear Energy Institute, Progress Energy Florida and Florida Power & Light.

If you go:

The Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee will meet 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday in room 301 of the Senate Office Building to hear the bill that would change the advance fee for construction of new nuclear plants.

Florida Senate to hold hearing Monday to address advance nuclear fee law 03/14/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 8:52pm]
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