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Progress Energy customers are helping to pay for a nuclear plant they aren't likely to benefit from.

Customers such as Ernest Dwight Douglass, a 91-year-old World War II veteran, don’t expect to be around to take advantage of Progress Energy’s proposed nuclear plant. But they’re paying for it.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Customers such as Ernest Dwight Douglass, a 91-year-old World War II veteran, don’t expect to be around to take advantage of Progress Energy’s proposed nuclear plant. But they’re paying for it.

Holiday resident Ernest Dwight Douglass isn't happy that Progress Energy charges him each month for a nuclear power plant it won't open for at least a decade.

"Do you think I'll be around to use it?" said Douglass, 91, echoing a common theme among his age-group peers. "I don't think so."

His question raises another: How many of Progress Energy's more than 1.4 million residential customers will, to put it bluntly, die before the utility expects to fire up the Levy County plant in 2021?

In just the group currently 75 years old and up, almost 67,000 heads of households in Pinellas and Pasco counties will be dead by the time the plant generates its first kilowatt, a St. Petersburg Times analysis found. In the meantime, according to a back-of-the-envelope calculation, they will have doled out $62 million in advance fees.

Add the 60- to 74-year-olds, and the number leaps more than a third to almost 96,000 dead. If the plant gets delayed to 2027, a growing concern, two-thirds, or 165,225, of the 60-and-over set won't be around to benefit from the additional nuclear power.

And those numbers are conservative, as they only include current heads of households. They don't include other seniors living in those homes who are likely to die before the plant is built or people living in a group setting like a nursing home.

"Why should we as senior citizens be forced to pay for something that we may never use?" asked Douglass, a World War II veteran.

Economists call it "intergenerational transfer" or the collection of money from one generation of consumers to benefit another generation. It doesn't happen only to seniors. The younger set helps their elders by paying into Social Security and Medicare.

But an advance fee that could last decades for a project that may or may not materialize worsens the burden on those required to pay for it, in particular seniors who would not likely benefit from it at all.

To cover the cost of the $20 billion project, Progress Energy customers began paying for the plant in 2009. Currently, average customers pay about $5 a month, based on how much energy they use. That fee is projected to increase most years beginning in 2013, reaching four times the current amount in 2016 and 10 times, or about $50 a month for the average customer in 2020.

The advance fee, Progress said, helps decrease the financial burden on customers by avoiding long-term financing, and, when it comes online, the plant itself will save as much as $1.5 billion a year in fuel and emissions costs. The cost to seniors for the nuclear plant is no different than paying for other goods and services later generations enjoy, the utility said.

"Prior generations have helped pay for the roads, schools and other facilities that benefit us today," said Suzanne Grant, a spokeswoman for Progress Energy. "Likewise, today's Florida residents are a critical part of ensuring that our children and grandchildren will have the energy, roads, schools and other services needed next year and into the next decade."

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has tried unsuccessfully to repeal the charge through new legislation, said the premise for the advance fee and construction of the nuclear plant was that the entire project would cost $6 billion or less, it would come online by 2016 and growing customer demand would require more power generation.

"Now, it's triple the cost, Progress Energy can't give us a date when they're going to build, and now we're learning there isn't the need," Fasano said. "Many senior citizens, many people, will never ever see that power plant."

Fasano said he will try again to repeal the advance nuclear fee in next year's legislative session, though he acknowledged that the utilities have "enormous power and influence in Tallahassee." Many leaders in the state capital favor nuclear power, including the chairman of the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.

Still, Fasano said, "The majority of my colleagues would truly like to repeal this."

Douglass, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with his wife at the Sunshine Christian Homes retirement community in Pasco County, lives on $1,200 a month from Social Security and a small pension from the Sherwin-Williams paint company. Statistically, he has a 1 in 12 chance of making it to 2021. Chances drop dramatically that he'll make it to 2027.

He grimaces at the thought of paying even more than he already does for the Levy nuclear plant, in particular because his $150 a month electric bill already runs higher than that of the average Progress customer.

"(An extra $50) will buy three or four gallons of milk . . . several loaves of bread," Douglass said. "We haven't had a Social Security raise for two or three years. The senior citizens are being gouged."

Times researchers Shirl Kennedy and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.

Are you likely
to be around?

Progress Energy plans to fire up its proposed Levy County nuclear plant in 2021, though growing evidence suggests the $20 billion facility won't go online until 2027, if it ever gets built. Based on national vital statistics, here is the likelihood residents who were 50 and over are likely to die by the 2021 start date and by 2027:

Age Dead
by 2021
Dead
by 2027
50 6% 12%
60 13% 25%
70 29% 55%
80 61% 88%
90 92% *
*Data beyond 10 years is unavailable for this age.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics

How we calculated the death toll

When the Times writes about the controversial Levy County nuclear plant, inevitably readers make comments along a similar theme: Why should I pay if I'll be dead?

So the Times set out to see just how many of Progress' Tampa Bay area customers are unlikely to be around when the plant fires up in 2021, though some estimates project a later date of 2027.

The 2010 U.S. Census listed 250,341 heads of households 60 years and over in Pinellas and Pasco counties, Progress' main service area in the Tampa Bay area. The Times used heads of household because they are the most likely to pay a utility bill. The review does not account for businesses or people who live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities or other group settings.

Life expectancy of the group was determined by taking the national vital statistics data and applying it to the age of the group members. For example, a person who is 75 years old can expect to live an additional 11.6 years.

The amount the customers will pay in advance for the nuclear plant was based on Progress Energy's projections of what the average customer will pay each month between the beginning of 2011 and the end of 2020, a total of about $2,660 for the average household.

Progress Energy customers are helping to pay for a nuclear plant they aren't likely to benefit from. 09/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 11:35am]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

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