Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Business

There's a lot of gall in Duke Energy's latest move

Help me out here.

There has to be a perfect word to sum up the federal lawsuit Duke Energy filed last week seeking $54 million from Westinghouse Electric.

There has to be a phrase that accurately describes the splendid arrogance of a money-hoarding beast loudly complaining about someone else's ill-gotten windfall.

Now I've considered a few lewd descriptions, and some snotty ones, too. Yet none adequately sums up the shamelessness and audacity of Duke's claim.

I suppose, if you're going for a more basic description, you could argue "ironic'' is a fitting choice.

After all, Duke is suing Westinghouse to recover funds for (take a deep breath) work it says was never performed. This is sort of like the pot calling the kettle whack.

You might recall that Duke spent years talking about building a nuclear power plant in Levy County. Never mind that the rest of the world gave up on the idea years ago. Never mind that proposed costs made the project about as feasible as nagging Scotty for some of those dilithium crystals he used to power the Enterprise on Star Trek.

Duke just kept right on planning its fictitious plant, mainly because the Florida Legislature allowed the power company to continue charging customers for it.

By the time the plug was finally pulled, ratepayers had ponied up around $1.5 billion for (deep breath again) work that was never completed.

So, yeah, I suppose "ironic" might describe Duke's lawsuit.

You know what else might describe it? "Chutzpah." Or "gall." Or "brass."

Because, remember, the Levy County fiasco was not the only bogus work project of Duke's that you paid for in recent years.

There was also the infamous sure-we-can-fix-it debacle at the Crystal River nuclear plant. Back before Progress Energy merged with Duke, the power company decided a home remedy was the wisest choice to upgrade the facilities at Crystal River.

About $1.7 billion of your money later, Duke decided to junk that plant, too. No improvements, no power, no tangible benefits whatsoever. And, yet, you were still billed.

And now Duke wants Westinghouse to pay for work it never completed at the same Levy plant that Duke never completed? In legal terms, I believe this is called exculpatory bull.

Of course, the suit might simply be a pre-emptive strike by the energy company.

Days after Duke's trip to court, Westinghouse filed its own suit claiming the utility owes more than $512 million for costs associated with the Levy project.

Going on the offensive with its own lawsuit seems to fit Duke's corporate philosophy. This is a company that treats the state Capitol like a discount grocer, purchasing the loyalty of politicians from one campaign cycle to the next.

Need to keep the nuclear cost recovery fee intact? Buy a senator. Need to tamp down the enthusiasm for solar energy legislation? Buy a state representative. Need to have some reformer kicked out of the Public Service Commission? Buy a governor.

So it probably makes sense that Duke was flexing its economic muscles before Westinghouse even had a chance to find the court clerk's office.

When you think about it that way, perhaps there is only one way to describe Duke's brazen, tone-deaf and completely hypocritical lawsuit:

Predictable.

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