Sunday, December 17, 2017
Opinion

No more blank checks for Florida utilities

In 2006, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that included a provision allowing investor-owned utilities such as Progress Energy to charge ratepayers for construction costs for new nuclear plants before the plant is built and delivering power.

I voted for the legislation based on the information and analysis of costs provided at that time. But cost estimates we were provided in 2006 have escalated three to four times to what they are now.

As I see the law's consequences to Florida families and businesses, I've changed my mind about the wisdom of such a policy. It is bad for consumers and bad for our state. This is why I am the prime sponsor of SB 740, which would repeal the advanced cost recovery for new nuclear power plants, such as are being proposed by Progress Energy in Levy County and at Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point plant near Miami.

Protecting consumers should not be a partisan issue, and that's why state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, has filed a similar bill, HB 4301.

As a staunch advocate for consumers, I believe that protecting our citizens' pocketbooks, particularly in these trying economic times, is of the utmost importance. In Florida, allowing utilities to recover the costs of a new power plant before the plant is placed in service and regardless of whether such a plant is ever even completed is unfair to consumers and bad public policy. Moreover, while it shifts the risk from private companies to ratepayers, utility shareholders still benefit from all the profits — in this case a guaranteed rate of return on their capital expenditures.

When I originally supported the advanced cost recovery, I never thought the Florida Public Service Commission would turn a blind eye to the high risks associated with such capital-intensive and complicated projects. I know that my fellow lawmakers did not intend to give utilities a blank check, but that is in essence what has happened.

According to Progress Energy filings with the PSC, an average customer would see an estimated increase of nearly $50 per month per 1,000 kilowatts of power by 2020 from the Levy County plant. Check your bill, because many people use 2,000 kilowatts or more. Naturally, larger electricity users, such as businesses and industrial users, will pay even more. Those on fixed incomes, especially Florida's senior citizens, will have a difficult time adjusting to such increases.

Just recently, the PSC voted once again in favor of the utilities and against these diverse constituencies. In spite of the fact that the utilities haven't even committed to actually building the new reactors, the PSC just approved an additional $282 million in cost recovery for Progress Energy and FPL.

I am one who has traditionally supported nuclear power projects. But these dicey investments ought to be the responsibility of utility shareholders and their investment partners who profit from them, not the average ratepayers who are already struggling to pay their monthly utility bill or keep their business afloat.

Why should people pay now for something that may never benefit them? Who would ever agree to provide an interest-free loan to someone (in this case, multibillion-dollar utilities) who cannot guarantee that a product will even materialize?

By further allowing utilities unrestricted ability to pass on the costs of new power plants, policymakers are placing undue financial burden where it doesn't belong. Every dollar a citizen or business keeps in their pockets instead of sending to the power companies is a dollar that can help strengthen the Florida's economy.

It is the duty of lawmakers to protect our consumers and let corporate risk be appropriately placed where it belongs — with the shareholders and those who stand to profit. That's how capitalism is supposed to work. It's time to have it start working here in Florida.

Mike Fasano is a Republican state senator from New Port Richey.

Comments

Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17