Monday, August 20, 2018
Opinion

Credibility is hard to come by with Duke Energy

This is not a critique of the proposed nuclear power plant in Levy County.

Let the engineers, watchdogs and investors debate the details of that plan.

This is about something simpler. In some ways, something far more important.

This is about credibility.

For more than three years, we have listened to a parade of electric company officials come up with increasingly hard-to-believe versions of their self-serving truths.

They have sworn that recession-era rate increases were for our own good, even while acknowledging it was an attempt to grow their profit level above a 10.5 percent return.

They promised Progress Energy boss Bill Johnson was their czar-in-waiting, and then shoved him out the door a few hours after Progress' merger with Duke Energy.

They once seemed to suggest they were a couple of lug nuts away from fixing Crystal River's broken nuclear plant, when the truth is that albatross may be beyond repair.

And now? Well, now Duke Energy executive Jeff Lyash is insisting the company has a definitive plan for building that mythical Levy County plant.

"We've made a decision to build Levy," said Lyash. "I'm confident in the schedule and numbers."

So what's the problem?

Well, a few weeks ago, CEO Jim Rogers declined to offer a time line on Levy while essentially questioning whether it will even be a necessity down the road.

Rogers cited the licensing process, the future price of natural gas, the company's level of diversity, the possibility of carbon costs and the question of whether Florida's growth curve returns to pre-recession levels as unknown factors in the equation.

"I think in (the next) five years, there is sort of a bubble question at that point in terms of will you go forward during that period or whether it will be delayed," Rogers said. "I think there are a lot of things we have to see going forward."

So, apparently, the truth resides somewhere between "damn the torpedoes" and "we may need a bigger boat."

And that is the problem with our energy executives. They will say anything at any moment to anyone if it keeps potential revenue streams alive. And by potential revenue streams, I am referring to your bank account.

Here are the basic choices:

Option A: Spend $3 billion or more while gambling that Crystal River can be repaired, and your problems are solved for the foreseeable future.

Option B: Spend at least $24 billion on Levy County while knowing most of us will be dead by the time the benefits catch up with the costs.

Option C: Bank on natural gas and solar energy in the future.

Unfortunately, our friends at Duke Energy seem to have come up with an Option D. They're taking an all-of-the-above approach.

They don't want to give up on Crystal River because there is insurance money to be had. They don't want to give up on Levy County because our Legislature has given them an ATM card to collect hundreds of millions in up-front nuclear costs from consumers.

And there is no downside to flirting with all three options because they could always decide to scrap nuclear energy without having to pay back any up-front fees.

In the end, there's only one way to know when energy officials are being truthful.

When they say no comment.

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