This is the day I wish this column had audio. That would force our pathetic legislators in Tallahassee to listen to the longest Bronx cheer in Florida history. Hey, elected clowns! Thanks for passing a law forcing Duke Energy customers to pay up to $1.5 billion in higher rates for a long proposed nuclear power plant in Levy County that will not be built. And no, Florida customers, you're not getting any of that money back. The good news is that on Thursday Duke Energy finally ended the charade that Levy would ever open. The meter has finally stopped, though customers will be paying down the tab for years. With the Levy project canceled, and the broken Crystal River plant now permanently closed, Duke appears to be exiting the nuclear power business in Florida. At least for the foreseeable future. Too bad we can't shut down Florida legislators just as easily. Especially those lawmakers who conjured up the 2006 law letting power companies charge advance fees to rate payers for high-priced and, yes, even ill-considered nuclear power projects. Anti-capitalist from the get-go, the law also allows the same power companies to profit even when projects aren't built. Like the Levy debacle. This borders on fraud. If our elected officials had not rubber-stamped it into law seven years ago, it probably would be. Imagine the utility's platoon of Tallahassee lobbyists back then. They are waving campaign contributions in one hand and, in the other, a scripted defense of advance fees for their lapdog politicians to parrot. But that image is spot on. Gouging Floridians with advance fees throughout one of the worst recessions in modern history? What leadership. Ever since, legislators and their gelded Public Service Commission continue to lip-synch the same, lame excuse for ripping off Floridians in the name of nuclear power plants. Charging rate payers now, they clamor, means nuclear plants can be built for less money than if a power company had to borrow money in the private sector like everybody else. Huh? The real reason the witless sheep in Tally let this happen is that power companies wanted to shift both the cost and the risk of building a nuclear plant on to its customers and off of its shareholders. If charging people in advance for private sector projects like nuclear power plants is such a clever, money-saving idea, why has it not caught fire as a way to finance any big, long-term project? Because it is bogus. Because only monopolies, like electric utilities, can get away with such self-serving shams. Because private sector competition should decide what projects deserve to win or lose financial backing. Nowhere in the country do you see big Wall Street firms or banks lending billions of dollars to electric utilities for nuclear plants. The risk is too high. The recent history of building nuclear plants is plagued with fantastic delays and enormous cost overruns. Repeatedly postponed, the Levy plant's expected costs skyrocketed to nearly $25 billion in the last seven years. That's the most expensive nuclear plant project in the country's history. A Tampa Bay Times analysis published in May of this year revealed that, in the long run, building and operating a natural gas plant to generate electricity is cheaper by billions of dollars than the Levy plant with the same power output. No wonder Duke has now canned the Levy nuke plant for a planned natural gas plant. But America's largest electric company might soon ask Tallahassee for another favor. New Duke CEO Lynn Good says she wants to change the rules in Florida so that any type of big power plant can be charged in advance to its customers. The executive sees gold by stiffing customers instead of shareholders for all mega-projects. So, to those neutered lawmakers, prepare to regurgitate the latest pro-power company script. And thanks for nothing. Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected].