Monday, May 21, 2018
Business

Four Florida lawmakers join lawsuit against nuclear advance fee

A group of four legislators say the Florida law that requires utility customers to pay in advance for new nuclear plants is unconstitutional and have joined a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to overturn it.

The two state representatives and two senators plan to submit their arguments to the court on Monday. The lawmakers state that the law is vague yet enables utilities to collect hundreds of millions from consumers with little framework for accountability.

"The statute is all but devoid of clarity and specificity and should therefore be found unconstitutional," the legislators argue.

The brief supports a case brought by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), an advocate for energy efficiency and clean energy.

In December, the organization filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court, appealing decisions by the PSC in 2011 that allow utilities to continue to collect hundreds of millions in nuclear construction fees for plants that may never be built. SACE also argues that the law is unconstitutional.

"It is sad that the PSC appears willing to let the power companies unfairly tax Florida families and businesses on an increasingly weak assumption they will build new nuclear reactors sometime next decade," said Stephen A. Smith, executive director of SACE.

Lawmakers, led by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, have been trying unsuccessfully to repeal the law in the legislature. Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, and Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, joined Fasano and Vasilinda in the brief opposing the law.

To hasten the construction of new nuclear power plants, the Legislature in 2006 passed a law that allows utilities to collect fees from customers before the reactors come online.

The measure was designed to save money on construction of the projects by paying some of the costs up front rather than allowing interest to accumulate on borrowed money and be paid after the plants come online.

The state's two largest utilities, Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida are seeking federal licenses to construct new nuclear plants.

Progress will pocket $150 million from the fees it is collecting, which will reach $1.1 billion by the end of 2017 — whether it builds the plant or not. If it does build the plant, the utility will pocket $3.5 billion before reactor produces electricity.

The lawmakers state in their brief that these kinds of benefits to the utilities are simply an unintended by-product of a vague law.

"We may not know the precise legislative intent in drafting (the advance fee law)," the lawmakers state. "But we can say that the result of that section cannot be what the Legislature intended."

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