Make us your home page

PSC chairman: Nuclear remains big part of state's energy future

Despite Progress Energy's broken nuclear plant and questions of whether the utility ever will build a second reactor, the chairman of the state Public Service Commission touts nuclear power as a critical source for Florida's future.

Speaking to the St. Petersburg Times editorial board Tuesday, Art Graham said he believes nuclear power remains the least expensive way to generate electricity. He said the problems that have arisen with nuclear plants should not stop future development of reactors.

"I think the biggest mistake we made when Three Mile Island happened was that we turned and ran from it," said Graham, referring to the 1979 meltdown at the nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pa.

Graham was in the Tampa Bay area with state Public Counsel J.R. Kelly on Tuesday visiting a TECO power station in Polk County. It was an educational site visit of a coal plant that is one of just three in the nation to take coal and turn it into gas to produce electricity — referred to as a type of "clean coal."

Graham, a PSC commissioner since July 2010 and chairman since October, asked the Public Counsel's Office to attend the TECO visit. On Friday, the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in South Florida reported that Graham and another state regulator met with utility representatives without the public counsel.

State law prohibits regulators from meeting with utility representatives and discussing pending issues before the PSC without the presence of the public counsel or appropriate official. The PSC says the meeting was a "meet and greet" and they did not discuss pending matters.

While praising the coal technology, Graham said the state's nuclear power sources have proved to be clean and more efficient.

He would not discuss costs related to Progress Energy's Crystal River nuclear plant, which has been offline for almost two years, because of a nuclear cost recovery hearing next week. Graham, the former recovery engineer with Georgia-Pacific Pulp and Paper and past president of ART Environmental Consulting Services, said he wants to repair the negative views of the PSC.

But his stance on nuclear could be a sticking point for him. Consumer advocates question just how cheap nuclear really is, in particular when troubles arise, such as at Progress Energy's Crystal River nuclear plant.

"The utilities say nuclear is cheaper," said James Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida. "Nuclear is expensive."

Progress Energy ratepayers continue to pay operational costs for the utility's Crystal River nuclear plant, though it has not generated electricity in almost two years. Workers shut down the reactor for major maintenance and later found two gaps in the reactor's containment building that have kept it offline.

The plant is not expected to return to service until at least 2014. Repairs and the purchase of electricity while the plant remains offline could cost the utility more than $2 billion, costs covered in part by insurance and by Progress Energy customers.

"We strongly feel, if it's not up, if it's not running … consumers should not have to pay for what's not working, unless it comes back online," Kelly said.

Ivan Penn can be reached at or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

PSC chairman: Nuclear remains big part of state's energy future 08/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 11:06am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]
  2. A sports rout on Wall Street


    NEW YORK — Sporting goods retailers can't shake their losing streak.

  3. Grocery chain Aldi hosting hiring event in Brandon Aug. 24


    BRANDON — German grocery chain Aldi is holding a hiring event for its Brandon store Aug. 24. It is looking to fill store associate, shift manager and manager trainee positions.

  4. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]
  5. Trigaux: Look to new Inc. 5000 rankings for Tampa Bay's future heavyweights


    There's a whole lotta fast-growing private companies here in Tampa Bay. Odds are good you have not heard of most of them.


    Kyle Taylor, CEO and founder of The Penny Hoarder, fills a glass for his employees this past Wednesday as the young St. Petersburg personal advice business celebrates its landing at No. 25 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the country. Taylor, still in his 20s, wins kudos from executive editor Alexis Grant for keeping the firm's culture innovative. The business ranked No. 32 last year. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]