Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

Legislators clash over what to do about paying for nuclear plants

TALLAHASSEE — Hoping the state would find out how Progress Energy botched an upgrade to a nuclear power plant that may never reopen?

Hoping to stop paying in advance for another nuclear plant that may never get built?

Don't count on it.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner told the Tampa Bay Times the Energy Committee, which he heads, would not hold hearings into the events that continue to keep the Crystal River plant off line.

Gardiner also said late Thursday he would not let the committee consider a bill to repeal a law forcing customers to pay in advance for a proposed $20 billion nuclear plant.

On Friday, New Port Richey Sen. Mike Fasano, who sponsored the bill, countered with a parliamentary Hail Mary.

Fasano attached language repealing the nuclear advance fee to another bill that will come before the Energy Committee on Monday morning. According to Fasano, that will force the full committee to discuss the bill and vote on it. At least eight of the 15 committee members will have to support Fasano's amendment for it to move forward.

Fasano's move is a long shot. The more issues that are tacked onto one bill, the more controversial the legislation becomes. And Republican senators might be nervous about clashing with Gardiner, a top lieutenant to Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

"I am asking for an up or down vote," Fasano said. "The customers deserve nothing less. They have already paid hundreds of millions of dollars toward this plant and are on the hook for hundreds of millions more."

In 2006, virtually the entire Legislature voted for the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause bill, which helps pay for the construction of new nuclear power plants and to increase power at existing plants by collecting money from customers in advance. Proponents of the fee prefer to call it "pay-as-you-go" financing because customers pay as the utility incurs expenses and can potentially save on financing charges.

"I know Sen. Fasano is coming at this with an admirable consumer-protection motive," Gardiner said. "However, if we eliminate nuclear cost recovery, consumers' rates will skyrocket when plants are completed and ratepayers are hit with costs plus interest at the same time.

"While these plants are relatively cheap to operate, there are a lot of costs incurred early in the process," he said.

Progress Energy has used the law to help collect money to build a new nuclear plant in Levy County. Since 2006, the utility's cost estimates for the project have tripled to at least $20 billion. Progress has already spent, and its customers will have to pay, $1.1 billion in planning for the nuclear plant.

Progress is still trying to obtain its operating license, but delays and recent decisions by the utility suggest it will be a decade or more for the plant to come on line — if ever.

Customers have become increasingly alarmed at fees added to their monthly bills to pay for the plant. Recent news that Progress negotiated the right to cancel the engineering, procurement and construction contract further raised the possibility that the plant won't get built.

The law has also allowed Progress to continue to collect money connected to the Crystal River plant, which the utility damaged in 2009 during a project to replace old steam generators. So far the Public Service Commission has allowed Progress to collect $51 million from its customers for that power upgrade.

Critics of the existing law complain that it does not require utilities to complete projects or refund customers money if they decide to abandon them.

Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a senior fellow for the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, said that nuclear is an expensive way to produce power, and the notion that having customers pay for it in advance saves money is wrong because "it doesn't. It doesn't save customers money."

Despite Gardiner's stance, there is a growing chorus of opponents, including cities throughout the state and lawmakers in Tallahassee.

"I voted for it (in 2006)," said Sen. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, who said he now supports repealing the law. "But none of us really knew anything about this bill."

Added Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, who wants the law repealed: "I would love to be paid now for something I might do in 10 years."

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, is sponsoring the companion bill to Fasano's Senate legislation that would repeal the advance fee.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda said though the repeal might not gain enough traction this year to pass, growing awareness of the problems with the cost recovery legislation is strengthening the chance for repeal in the future.

"It's been tough," she said. "But I'm building knowledge. I'm building a coalition."

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.

Comments
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18
Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

WASHINGTON - The Senate Intelligence Committee moved Wednesday to recommend Gina Haspel for CIA director, setting up a floor vote that her opponents say will signal to the world whether the United States condemns or condones torture.The committee vot...
Published: 05/16/18
Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

In Hillsborough County — where one of the world’s largest Confederate flags still flies near a busy interstate — you may not be surprised to learn there’s an Uncle Tom Road.The name is a flash point and a slur, shorthand for a black person who will d...
Published: 05/16/18
Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

With six months to go before the Nov. 6 election, Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell on Monday dropped her bid against Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard for the at-large District 2 seat.Caudell said she decided she’d better be better suited f...
Published: 05/14/18
Romano: Hey Gov. Scott, could you hire me, too?

Romano: Hey Gov. Scott, could you hire me, too?

To: The Honorable Gov. Rick ScottDear Governor,It has come to my attention that your administration has recently made some, dare I say, innovative hires for important government positions in the months before you leave office.At the risk of sounding ...
Published: 05/14/18
‘Not a racially motivated issue’: N.C. mayor defends violent arrest of black man at Waffle House

‘Not a racially motivated issue’: N.C. mayor defends violent arrest of black man at Waffle House

The mayor of the North Carolina town where a 22-year-old black man’s violent arrest in a Waffle House has drawn wide scrutiny and prompted an internal investigation defended the police in a video he posted Friday."This is not a racially motivated iss...
Published: 05/12/18
Pruitt’s dinner with cardinal accused of abuse was kept off public schedule

Pruitt’s dinner with cardinal accused of abuse was kept off public schedule

WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, dined last year in Rome with Cardinal George Pell, a prominent climate-science denialist and Vatican leader who was also facing sexual abuse allegations. The EPA lat...
Published: 05/11/18