Get your checkbook ready for Progress Energy's planned Levy County nuclear power plant

It's called progress — with a capital B.

Billions, that is. Seventeen of them.

The initial estimates of how much it would cost Progress Energy to build a nuclear plant in Levy County already seemed astronomical before the company announced last week that it was only kidding. The real price, it said, is actually three times higher.

Oh, yeah, and if you're a customer — which you no doubt are — you have to pay for all this in advance.

Some of you will get another nice surprise — a giant erector set in your back yard. The company is still working out those details, kind of like that nagging little matter of where to eventually put the rods that will remain radioactive much longer than the dinosaurs lasted.

Okay, so it's expensive to run the air conditioner every minute of August. Who wants to sit in the dark? We get that.

But $17-billion? Good lord.

Here's the spin, as opposed to "Just shut up and pay it. You don't have a choice."

Progress Energy expects to add 35,000 power-hungry homes and businesses a year. And we're not just talking single-wides. These new homes will be 50 percent larger than those from the 1970s and they will be full of electronic gadgets — high-definition plasma screen TVs and computers draining the power grid.

They will need a strong, consistent flow of electricity — which, unfortunately, must travel through wires strung on steel towers stretching to the sky. Towers that might cast a shadow over your back yard; electricity fields that may pose health concerns.

That prospect attracted dozens of worried homeowners last week to meetings in Spring Hill and New Port Richey. With property values tanking, many of those who showed up also lamented the utility's timing.

Patti Hillman has lived in her house in Shady Hills for 35 years. The 56-year-old court employee figured to retire there in July. But if the towers are going to be built near her home, she'd want to move. Good luck selling.

"They're about to take away a big chunk of my assets," said Hillman. "It's giving me sleepless nights. I'm in a state of fear."

The only good news is that she won't have to wait long to find out if the news is bad. The utility plans to run transmission lines from the Levy County plant to a Tarpon Springs substation, and from Tarpon Springs east to Kathleen (near Lakeland) in Polk County. A third segment would run from Levy County to Lake County. The work won't begin for at least four years, but decision time is near— June to be exact.

Road corridors such as the Suncoast Parkway seem like natural solutions, but it's not that simple in a state that seems destined to fill in once we get this little matter of a housing recession behind us.

"The goal is to have the least impact on the community and the environment," said Progress spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs. "There's a balance."

Since money obviously is no object, that ought to make things easier for the company.

Get your checkbook ready for Progress Energy's planned Levy County nuclear power plant 03/15/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 3:11pm]

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