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It's no surprise Duke Energy likes this advance fee deal

You may already be aware of the nuclear cost recovery fee.

This is the hand-us-your-cash law that allows power companies to charge customers (and make a handsome profit) for nuclear power projects that may (or may not) be undertaken.

At last check, Florida residents had forked over roughly $2 billion to upgrade the Crystal River nuclear plant (which is now closed permanently) and build a Levy County plant (which exists only in theory).

In other words, your Legislature has allowed power companies to charge you $2 billion with virtually nothing to show for it. Sort of puts health care in perspective, doesn't it?

Not surprisingly, this nifty little law has worked out so well for the power companies that now Duke Energy apparently wants to supersize it.

One of the priorities for Duke's new CEO is being able to charge customers up-front for non-nuclear projects, too. This is according to an Associated Press report based on information from a Wall Street insider that Duke hasn't exactly shot down.

"That's pretty audacious, don't you think?'' asked state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, who tried to get the nuclear cost recovery fee repealed earlier this year.

"I would like to know how, and why, consumers and ratepayers have been put in the shoes of investors financing these projects. Where are the shareholders in all of this?''

To be fair, there is some justification for these fees. It can be argued that ratepayers will save money in the long run because utilities won't have to borrow money — and thus pass along interest charges — to fund big projects.

This is the reasonable-sounding explanation given by self-serving power companies and subservient politicians.

The problem is the Legislature completely abdicated its responsibility in monitoring advance fees. Your state House and Senate set up a system so power companies had little risk, little responsibility and, really, little incentive to finish a nuclear project.

Since utilities are allowed to earn a profit on these up-front charges, it is actually in their best interests to drag their feet.

So what does this latest development mean for you?

I'm just spit balling here, but you might want to pass the word along to your legislators that you don't want them to roll over like puppies waiting for their bellies to be scratched every time a power company writes a campaign check.

"Oh my gosh,'' Dudley said, when I asked if the Legislature is inclined to rubber stamp any utility request. "That's the understatement of the century.''

(As an aside, Duke Energy recently tried to pass on to customers $326,000 in political contributions in North Carolina. Get it? They wanted customers to pay for campaign funds for politicians who, it could be assumed, were inclined to stick it to ratepayers.)

Just to be clear, I'm not trying to paint power companies as evil. They're just trying to maximize their profits.

What I am saying is ratepayers deserve better. They deserve a Public Service Commission that actually has some authority and courage. And they deserve politicians in Tallahassee who care more about their constituents than their benefactors.

Bottom line?

Eliminate the profits on advance construction fees or eliminate the fees altogether.

It's no surprise Duke Energy likes this advance fee deal 07/13/13 [Last modified: Saturday, July 13, 2013 7:40pm]
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