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Editorial: Duke gets another sweetheart deal

The shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant continues to produce profits for Duke Energy rather than power for consumers. First Duke gets to keep $100 million that ratepayers coughed up for repairs that were so botched the plant had to be shut down for good. Now the utility gets to keep about 7 percent of another $100 million that customers will pay just to stabilize the plant before it is decommissioned. Call it roughly $7 million more in profit for Duke and salt in the wound that still feels raw to utility customers.

The news of the latest outrage involving the Crystal River plant comes as Duke officials are publicly explaining more about the decades-long effort to decommission the nuclear plant. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a hearing this week about that plan, which is expected to cost $1.2 billion over 60 years but not cost ratepayers additional money. The price tag is expected to be covered by an existing decommissioning fund. But it turns out that there is more work to be done just to stabilize the plant before the decommissioning.

As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Ivan Penn reported last week, Duke customers will have to pay some $100 million to shore up the nuclear reactor's concrete containment building. The public counsel's office, which represents ratepayers before the Public Service Commission, says a settlement agreement for the Crystal River plant always assumed some work would be required for the building to remain stable during the decommissioning of the plant. That was never clear when the agreement was announced last year and approved by the PSC.

It is tempting to blame the 2006 nuclear cost recovery law for this latest pickpocketing of Duke customers. That law enabled electric utilities to force ratepayers to pay for work to renovate or build nuclear plants even if the projects were botched — see Crystal River — or the plants were never built — see Levy County. Instead of repealing the giveaway, the Legislature only tweaked the law last year as public outrage grew over the closed Crystal River plant and price projections skyrocketed for the proposed Levy County plant that Duke canceled.

The real culprit here is last year's settlement between Duke Energy and the Public Counsel that was approved by the compliant PSC. That agreement is what enables Duke to collect roughly a 7 percent profit on the $100 million Crystal River project. It could have been worse, because Duke is generally entitled to 10.5 percent return on investment. That's no comfort to consumers, and it's another indication that the nuclear settlement is a bitter pill for consumers who will pay more than $3 billion for Duke's mistakes regarding the Crystal River plant and the proposed Levy County plant.

It's bad enough that consumers have to pay billions to Duke for two nuclear projects that will never generate a kilowatt of power. It's even worse that Duke gets to pocket millions in profits from their own mistakes. Where is the outrage in Tallahassee?

Editorial: Duke gets another sweetheart deal 01/10/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 4:12pm]
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