A group protesting charges by Progress Energy for its planned nuclear plant in Levy County has filed suit against the utility, claiming the advance fees for the plant are unconstitutional.
The five plaintiffs who are part of the Citizens for Ratepayers Rights Inc. state that Progress Energy has been allowed to collect money from customers without providing any benefits or services and to enrich itself even if the plant is never built.
As part of the complaint, the plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for their claim, filed in the Circuit Court for Sumter County.
"We truly believe this is unconstitutional," said Suzan Franks, one of the plaintiffs and president of the Citizens for Ratepayers Rights. "We really have tried every avenue possible to get them to understand. This was the only way we could do it."
Cherie Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Progress Energy, said the utility had no comment because officials had not seen the lawsuit.
Progress Energy plans to build a $17 billion nuclear plant on a 5,000-acre site 4 miles north of the nearest town, Inglis. The utility had planned to start producing power in 2016 but announced a 20-month delay in its plans to at least March 2018.
As part of Progress Energy's effort to recoup cost of construction of the facility, customers pay $5.86 a month per 1,000 kilowatt hours toward up-front costs. That charge increased $1.55 last year.
The charges, along with requests for other rate increases, have angered customers, in particular at a time when consumers continue to struggle through the recession.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say their concern is the utility might continue to collect money and never build the plant. They say the Legislature did not cap the amount Progress Energy can raise, so the utility could just keep the money rather than returning it to customers.
"I just think it's unconscionable," Franks said. "What's been done to us is illegal."
Progress Energy Florida has publicly remained resolute about its intentions to move forward with the nuclear plant, though the utility's chief executive officer, Vincent Dolan, told the St. Petersburg Times last month that "everything's on the table" when it comes to the plans. The interview came soon after the PSC denied Progress a rate increase.
Questions about the future of the nuclear facility are mounting as opposition to the project continues to grow.
Economist Mark Cooper, who writes about the financing of nuclear power reactors, told the state Public Service Commission that it is "not prudent" to continue plans to build Progress Energy's nuclear plant because energy efficiency and renewables would be more cost-effective and practical.
Ivan Penn can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and become a fan of Consumer's Edge on Facebook.