Make us your home page
Instagram

What cost is too high for nuclear energy?

Just over 1,240 days ago, in December 2006, Progress Energy Florida chief Jeff Lyash first visited the St. Petersburg Times to unveil plans for a nuclear power plant in Levy County and to utter these words:

"It's important to have a new nuclear plant in Florida."

Lyash, since promoted, said those words when the plant's original price tag stood at about $6 billion, and when the Levy plant was to begin operating in 2016.

Since then, the price tag on the Levy facility has steadily ballooned. Last week in regulatory filings, Progress Energy said the nuke plant may cost as much as $22.5 billion and be delayed until 2021.

"Slowing the work on the Levy project lowers the near-term price impact," explained Bill Johnson, CEO of parent company Progress Energy in Raleigh, N.C.

Slowing the work also buys Progress Energy more time to decide if it wants to pursue this project. The company insists yes, but says so with a lot less gusto.

Let's put the latest $22.5 billion price tag for the Levy County nuke plant in easier-to-grasp terms. The estimated cost has increased by roughly $13 million every single day since it was unveiled in December 2006. Pretty soon we'll be talking about serious money. Especially since much of those increases will be borne by Progress Energy Florida customers in the form of higher electricity rates.

Which raises a question:

At what price does a new nuke power plant become prohibitive to the Floridians it claims to serve?

Is a $10 billion or $20 billion or $30 billion plant okay? I'm pretty sure that between now and 2021, the current $22.5 billion estimate will go much higher.

In the 1970s — the last decade when we actively built nuclear power plants — the average cost overrun for a nuke plant approached 300 percent. If only the pace of escalating costs for new nukes were so reasonable.

In its infinite wisdom, the Legislature passed a measure to allow power companies like Progress Energy to raise electricity rates now to help fund the ongoing costs of building future nuke plants. That idea did not sit well with customers during Florida's severe recession. Progress Energy just readjusted its rate strategy.

Still, if covering the initial $6 billion price tag for a nuke plant seemed daunting, how on earth will Floridians ante up to cover $22.5 billion?

The market value of Progress Energy itself is just over $11 billion. So here is a company talking about spending twice that sum on one nuke facility in Florida.

Let's go out on a limb and suggest this scenario is not going to work. Somebody needs to come up with an alternative plan to revive (and finance) the next generation of nuclear power in America if such startling cost overruns and delays are common.

None of this is to contest Jeff Lyash's gung-ho remark in 2006. We probably could use new nuclear power plants in Florida, given a few million more residents coming this way, all expecting lights, air conditioning and cable TV.

But we don't need nukes with runaway price tags. It's time to rethink this project.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

What cost is too high for nuclear energy? 05/10/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 7:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. McMansions, state sewage order on tap at St. Petersburg City Council

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council is set Thursday to vote on two major issues: controversial zoning changes aimed at curbing big McMansion-style homes and a consent order with the state that will require St. Petersburg to fix its ailing sewage system.

    Two big, blocky homes on the 2300 block of Dartmouth, Ave N under construction in April. Several new homes under construction.
in St. Petersburg's Historic Kenwood Neighborhood are too big, residents complain. The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday is set to consider ordinances aimed at curbing the construction of big "McMansions." [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  2. Tom James and wife, Mary, talk about their James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — As a child, businessman and philanthropist Tom James loved cowboy movies, an affinity that would later play out in a vast collection of Western art amassed over the years with his wife, Mary.

    Tom and Mary James at the site of the Tom and Mary James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.
Photo courtesy of Raymond James
  3. A reliable Rick Scott ally, Pete Antonacci, named CEO of Enterprise Florida

    State Roundup

    Pete Antonacci, who last week made headlines when he advised scientists to stay in their lane rather than criticize his water agency's work on Everglades restoration, is getting a new job.

    Pete Antonacci, an attorney seen here in 2009, has served many roles for Gov. Rick Scott: general counsel, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District and now, CEO of Enterprise Florida.  [
COLIN HACKLEY | Special to the Times]
  4. Pinellas County budget on the rise thanks to high property values

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– After another year of growth, Pinellas County commissioners won't have to fight to pay for critical needs in the 2017-2018 budget.

    The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday learned the first details of its $2.3 billion spending plan for next fiscal year, which includes funding for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Tampa Bay chefs go head to head and Disney Springs gets another James Beard winner

    Food & Dining

    Epic Chef Showdown: Feeding Tampa Bay

    In a shoulder-to-shoulder format cook-off competition, chefs from Parkshore Grill and Mise En Place strove Monday night to become the Epic Chef of Tampa Bay. In this course, using ramen as a mystery box ingredient.