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Senate wants 'comprehensive review' of Levy County nuclear project

State senators passed a measure Wednesday that calls for a "comprehensive review" of whether the proposed Levy County nuclear plant is cost effective, prudent or even needed.

If approved by the House and the governor signs it into law, the state Public Service Commission will be required to begin the review of the Levy project by July 1 and complete the study by Feb. 1.

The action is in response to growing frustration with a proposed $24.7 billion nuclear plant that Duke Energy and its subsidiary Progress Energy Florida want to build on a 5,000-acre tract 80 miles north of Tampa.

The plant was supposed to come online in 2016 at a cost of about $5 billion, but now it won't start up until at least 2024 and will cost almost five times that.

Four Tampa Bay area lawmakers proposed the review after movement on tougher, more extensive legislation regarding nuclear plant construction appeared to stall. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, called the proposal for a review of the Levy project a "rifle shot" after the amendment was tacked onto the state's budget bill on the Senate floor.

Sterling Ivey, a Progress Energy spokesman, said the amendment was unnecessary and singles out the Levy project, though the state's largest utility, Florida Power & Light, also proposes to build new nuclear reactors.

"The Senate's budget amendment today limits review to only Progress Energy and circumvents the regulatory oversight already in place," Ivey said.

"Utilities are required to come before the Public Service Commission every year — in public hearings — and show that the costs of new plants are prudent and reasonable," he said.

Susan Glickman, a lobbyist for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy who has been speaking to lawmakers about the issue, said the amendment the Senate passed "doesn't solve the problems of Florida's disjointed utility planning process."

The push for a comprehensive review of the Levy project follows a series of reports in the Tampa Bay Times about how Duke Energy has bene­fited from a law passed in 2006 that allows utilities to collect money from customers in advance for the construction of new nuclear plants.

Duke has yet to commit to building the Levy project, but it has spent $1.5 billion of customer money, including pocketing $150 million through the nuclear cost recovery law, or so-called "advance fee."

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, has been fighting since 2009 to have the advance fee law repealed, but other lawmakers refused to even hear the bills.

This year, Fasano, Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, again called for a repeal of the law. Four Tampa Bay area senators joined in to call for changes to the law, not an outright repeal.

The issue got its first hearings since the law passed in 2006. But the focus quickly shifted from extensive modification to the law to simply a review of the Levy project.

"Florida lawmakers have an opportunity to right a bad policy that was passed in 2006," Glickman said. "If this call for a review that was put into the budget were to result in the cancellation of the Levy proposal, it still doesn't fix the fundamental problems that utilities are incentivized to build power plants."

Times staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

Senate wants 'comprehensive review' of Levy County nuclear project 04/10/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 9:33pm]

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