Friday, April 20, 2018
Politics

Maybe there's still a way to get something from Duke Energy in nuclear debacle

I sometimes think members of the Public Service Commission get a bad rap.

I mean, even if they are flunkies for the power companies who are beholden to the governor and petrified to step out of line, they still have feelings.

That's why it was so danged nice of House Speaker Will Weatherford to provide commissioners with a well-defined escape route this week.

Speaking at a Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting, Weatherford essentially gave the Public Service Commission permission to tell Duke Energy to stick its latest rate hike where the electric company doesn't shine.

At least that's how I chose to interpret Weatherford's words.

You see, the speaker was explaining just how ratepayers got snookered out of $1.5 billion for nonexistent nuclear energy when he made some rather stark admissions about the state's 7-year-old cost recovery fee.

Weatherford, who was not yet a legislator when the law was passed, pointed out that there were some faulty assumptions made at the time in terms of the cost of nuclear energy and natural gas and the amount of energy needed in Florida.

He said this:

"Are they complicit? Are they at fault? Absolutely. Progress Energy, now Duke Energy, is at fault. There's no question about that. But to say they are 100 percent at fault and not recognize that the state of Florida willingly went into this partnership … that's a reality we have to own up to as well.''

And this:

"It was a mistake. We should all own it. I didn't vote for it, but we have to live with the consequences. I believe there are things we can do, but writing a check for a billion and a half dollars back to ratepayers just honestly is not feasible.''

So to recap:

The power companies screwed up. The legislators screwed up. And the ratepayers are footing the bill.

(What Weatherford did not address is why the House and Senate, year after year, have refused to address bills that would have repealed the nuclear cost recovery fee, even though he is now acknowledging it was a billion-dollar blunder. Maybe we can get him to talk about that next year when legislators are starting to deposit their enormous campaign contributions from the state's power companies.)

To me, the most interesting part of Weatherford's nuclear mea culpa was when he said a massive refund was not feasible but "there are things we can do.''

If I'm on the Public Service Commission, I interpret that to mean we are taking away Duke Energy's rubber stamp. That means they had better be driving up to the meeting in a Pinto if they expect any sympathy from the commission.

For instance, there is a settlement on the table requiring ratepayers to fork over another $108 million a year in nuclear fees for almost four more years. Try explaining that one.

In addition, Duke has requested a rate increase of more than $8 a month, even though the company's rates are already higher than the state's other major utilities.

If the Duke folks want to bellyache, I would point out that they were making a nifty little profit for quite a few years while residents were paying for a fictitious product.

And if that doesn't shut them up, I would simply say:

The speaker told us to do it.

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