Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Hearings begin over who'll foot Duke Energy's bill for failed Crystal River nuclear plant

TALLAHASSEE — Duke Energy broke the Crystal River nuclear plant, spent a lot of money trying to fix it and now wants its customers to pay more than $1.6 billion in related expenses. And how much of the bill does Duke think its shareholders should pay?

Not a dime.

Those representing Duke's customers disagree and, on Tuesday, the state Public Service Commission took up the matter.

"What the commission is presented with is the case of the billion-dollar elephant in the room," said Charles Rehwinkel, deputy state public counsel. "This is the most important issue that we have seen in decades before this commission."

Consumer advocates told the PSC that the billion-dollar tab is the result of Duke twice victimizing its customers — first in the handling of the upgrades and repairs that led to the first permanent closing of a nuclear plant in Florida and second by failing to collect sufficient money from the insurance company for the loss.

The PSC must decide whether Duke's customers, its shareholders or both will be responsible for the bills left behind after the company's decision in February to close the Crystal River plant. Consumer advocates — including representatives of retailers, industrial power users and phosphate mining companies — asked for more time to prepare their case.

But PSC Commissioner Eduardo Balbis rejected their plea.

His reason: "The ratepayers have waited long enough."

Tuesday's hearing — a presentation of oral arguments by Duke and the consumer advocates — was a prelude to the full trial that was scheduled for next month. Balbis moved the case to October, but the consumer advocates wanted a longer extension to have adequate time to gather testimony, experts and respond to any written arguments Duke might file.

The plant has sat idle since fall 2009, when the utility took it offline for an upgrade and maintenance project that included replacing old steam generators. During the project, workers cut into the reactor's 42-inch-thick concrete containment building and it cracked.

An attempt to repair and bring the plant back online in March 2011 resulted in more cracks.

Duke and the state reached a settlement agreement last year that is returning almost $500 million to customers for replacement power the utility purchased because of the loss of the nuclear plant. In addition, Duke's insurance company agreed to pay just $835 million on policies that could have paid out between $2.7 billion and $5.5 billion.

A bigger insurance payout would not only help cover the outstanding bills, but also help with the construction costs of a planned natural gas plant that Duke says it will likely build to replace the nuclear plant.

John Burnett, a lawyer representing Duke, said at Tuesday's hearing that the utility welcomes a thorough review of the issues. But he said the settlement agreement the utility reached with the state bars any action against the company for its actions since the settlement was reached.

"We're not going to go back in time and judge the prudence of those decisions," Burnett said. "Everything is prospective in that settlement agreement. It does not look back."

Rehwinkel and other consumer advocates disagreed.

In particular, they said, they never agreed in the settlement that they would not challenge whether Duke got a good deal for customers from its insurance company. The advocates questioned whether Duke simply worked to protect the insurer, the Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited, or NEIL, a mutual company of which Duke is one of the largest members.

"Did they maintain adequate and appropriate insurance coverage," asked Robert Scheffel "Schef" Wright, a lawyer for the Florida Retailers Association? "As one of the largest members of NEIL, did they have a conflict of interest?"

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.

Comments
St. Pete Pier public arts committee to meet with finalists, make decision

St. Pete Pier public arts committee to meet with finalists, make decision

ST. PETERSBURG — The pier public arts committee is expected to decide today which artist or artists will have their work showcased in the new 26-acre Pier District. The committee, which selected six finalists with the help of consultant Ann Wykell, w...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Armed Forces History Museum collection has a new home, but new owner is a mystery

Armed Forces History Museum collection has a new home, but new owner is a mystery

LARGO — The contents of the Armed Forces History Museum have been sold, but no one is ready to talk about the future of the collection of military memorabilia.A collector named John Piazza used his personal collection to start the public museum, whic...
Published: 04/24/18
Big visitor calls at Port Tampa Bay

Big visitor calls at Port Tampa Bay

TAMPA — The 750-foot-long Ireland, one of the biggest cargo vessels ever to call at Port Tampa Bay, arrived Sunday.The Ireland is on its inaugural voyage, having left a shipyard in China for a stop in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula to pick up 64,865 shor...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Work starting on JW Marriott, but Water Street Tampa expects to have 10 buildings under way within a year

Work starting on JW Marriott, but Water Street Tampa expects to have 10 buildings under way within a year

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa marks the start of construction Tuesday on its first building, the posh JW Marriott hotel, but there’s a lot more to come.And soon.Within a year, developers said Monday, construction should be underway on 10 — 10! — of Wate...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Sears in Clearwater’s Countryside Mall to close in mid-July

Sears in Clearwater’s Countryside Mall to close in mid-July

CLEARWATER — The Westfield Countryside Mall Sears will close in mid-July as part of Sears Holdings’ latest store cuts, bringing the number of shuttering Kmarts and Sears to nearly 200.The store’s liquidation sale will begin on Friday, according to Se...
Published: 04/23/18
Foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa draws praise, criticism at penalty hearing

Foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa draws praise, criticism at penalty hearing

CLEARWATER — Homeowners from as far away as Texas and North Carolina crowded a Pinellas County courtroom Monday in support of embattled foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa. Facing possible disbarment for professional misconduct, Stopa also drew s...
Published: 04/23/18
Tampa workers accuse General Dynamics unit of underpaying

Tampa workers accuse General Dynamics unit of underpaying

TAMPA — The Tampa call center of a federal contractor is being accused of underpaying its employees. Workers for General Dynamics Information Technology filed wage theft complaints with the Department of Labor Monday, calling for an investigation int...
Published: 04/23/18
With lights from Toys R Us dimmed, sales plunge at Hasbro

With lights from Toys R Us dimmed, sales plunge at Hasbro

Associated PressNEW YORK — With its sales falling due to the liquidation of Toys R Us, Hasbro is looking for new places to sell Monopoly, My Little Pony and its other toys. Hasbro said Monday it will rely more on online sales, although it has also be...
Published: 04/23/18
Sears’ biggest shareholder offers to buy Kenmore brand

Sears’ biggest shareholder offers to buy Kenmore brand

Associated PressNEW YORK — Sears’ biggest shareholder appears to be pushing for a breakup of the 125-year-old company that has survived two world wars and the Great Depression. Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert — whose hedge fund has forwarded millions...
Published: 04/23/18
Lucky’s Market hosting job fairs in St. Petersburg ahead of June opening

Lucky’s Market hosting job fairs in St. Petersburg ahead of June opening

ST. PETERSBURG — Job fairs to fill more than 100 jobs open at Tampa Bay’s first Lucky’s Market start this week, the organic grocer announced on Monday. The grocery store, located at 6765 22nd Ave. N, is hosting hiring fairs Monday through Friday unti...
Published: 04/23/18