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Progress Energy customers could get a break on their bills, at least for the short term

Progress Energy Florida on Monday reiterated its promise to refund $129 million to customers in 2013 for costs related to the broken Crystal River nuclear plant.

Progress also wants the state Public Service Commission to approve a $328 million reduction related to power purchased while Crystal River sits idle. That money, the utility hopes, will eventually get paid by insurance.

The hitch: If insurance doesn't pay, customers could get hit with that $328 million bill down the road.

Exactly what Progress' 1.6 million Florida customers will pay come Jan. 1 remains unclear. The commission is still reviewing parts of Progress' 2013 requests and expects to reach a decision by the end of this month.

Progress projected in early estimates this summer that the average bill would drop from the current $123.19 per 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage to as low as $115.75 a month.

What Progress' customers pay in the short term and over the next few years could depend on how much the insurance company pays for damage to the Crystal River nuclear plant.

Jon Moyle, who represents the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, says the Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited, or NEIL, should cover most of the costs related to the damage.

Yet of the more than $3 billion in expenses spent or projected for Crystal River, NEIL has paid just $298 million so far and nothing since spring 2011.

Moyle says a large part of the problem is that no one in state government has been regulating NEIL and forcing it to pay what the insurance policy suggests the insurer owes. NEIL, an offshore insurance company out of Bermuda, isn't incorporated in Florida and doesn't have a license to sell insurance in the state.

"As we looked into this," Moyle told the state Public Service Commission during a hearing on Monday, "we discovered that NEIL, the Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited, is not licensed to do business in the state of Florida. Nobody can call them in."

In response to Moyle, Ken Manne, vice president and general counsel for NEIL, stated: "NEIL is not in violation of any applicable Florida insurance laws or regulations. With respect to the Crystal River Nuclear Plant, it is NEIL's policy not to comment on member insurance claims."

Crystal River went offline in fall 2009 in a botched maintenance and repair job that left its 42-inch-thick concrete containment wall, which houses the reactor, with a major crack. An attempted repair resulted in more cracks.

Progress Energy noted that mediation with NEIL is expected to begin before the end of the year.

Progress Energy customers could get a break on their bills, at least for the short term 11/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, November 5, 2012 9:14pm]

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