Still waiting for outrage over nuclear plant advance fee

Published October 3 2012
Updated October 4 2012

The scam/hustle/shakedown known as the nuclear cost recovery fee will be argued in front of the Florida Supreme Court today.

I suppose that's good news. After all, there's a fighting chance the justices will see this piece of legislation for the shell game that it is and declare it unconstitutional.

The concern is that the court must address it as a legal argument and not as a policy choice. In other words, their hands may be tied.

And that means the governor and Legislature need to be on deck.

Because, while it was their predecessors who created this mess, Gov. Rick Scott and Tallahassee's current lawmakers have either been too gutless or too witless to correct it.

Just to recap:

In 2006, the Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush decided it was a good idea to allow utility companies to charge customers in advance for the construction of nuclear plants.

The idea was that Florida was rapidly growing and nuclear energy was the wave of the future. Agree or disagree, that was the rationale. The problem was that nuclear projects carry tremendous economic risk, and so utility companies wanted ratepayers to bankroll this gamble in advance.

That alone made it poor legislation. The swindle was in the details.

Lawmakers allowed the utility companies to keep this advance money even if the nuclear projects were bungled, delayed or never even built.

Think about the implications there.

Utility companies now had an incentive to keep nuclear projects alive forever. Even if the demand for power went down (which it has). Even if the costs for nuclear plants went up (which they have). Even if alternative energy was an option (which it is). Even if they had no intention of ever building a plant (which no one has in 30 years).

Essentially, the Legislature gave utility companies a license to steal.

So this must have been a heckuva fight, right? There must have been blood on the Senate floor when lawmakers figured out consumers were being billed in advance for an imaginary product. There must have been outrage in their voices when they discovered this law outlawed the idea of a refund desk.

Yeah, not so much.

It passed the Senate 39-0. It passed the House 119-1.

Former Rep. Susan Bucher, D-Palm Beach, was the lone nay among 159 lawmakers.

"I asked questions about it on the floor, because I didn't want anyone to say that they had no idea what this legislation was about," said Bucher, now the supervisor of elections in Palm Beach. "They all said, 'Oh, Bucher, you just don't understand it.' I said, 'Okay, explain it to me.' And nobody even tried.

"I said, 'I don't understand it? Well, I can read.' And it appeared to me to be a way to collectively open purse strings. I understood that.

Like any good con, it worked because it had the benefit of a misdirection. It was called the Florida Renewable Energy Technologies and Energy Efficiency Act and was promoted as an eco-friendly breakthrough. The stuff about gouging customers for nonexistent nuclear energy was buried in 90 pages of legalese.

So keep all of this in mind as the Supreme Court considers the case. If the court does not strike down this law, you may want to ask Gov. Scott's office what he plans to do about it. You may want to contact your local lawmakers and ask why they're not raising a stink about it.

Or you may continue contributing to the million-dollar bonuses being handed out to executives at your local electric company.