Monday, May 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Nuclear plant deal late, limited

Duke Energy acknowledged the obvious Thursday. The proposed Levy County nuclear plant was too expensive even for the nation's largest utility to stomach, so it shelved the project. This pragmatic decision would have been made sooner if the Florida Legislature and the Public Service Commission had been more interested in protecting consumers than in pleasing the utilities. Instead, Duke ratepayers still are on the hook for more than $1 billion in expenses tied to a nuclear plant that won't be built, plus the cost of future natural gas plants.

The settlement announced late Thursday with Duke, the Office of Public Counsel (which represents utility ratepayers before the PSC) and business groups has some positives. At least it stops the bleeding for ratepayers on the proposed Levy nuclear plant, and Duke will continue to seek a federal nuclear plant operating license at its own expense that would be good for 20 years. The deal also reduces ratepayers' costs tied to the closed Crystal River nuclear plant, which was not worth repairing. And it extends the current freeze in base rates for two years, through 2018.

While those are positives, they do not let those responsible for this fiasco off the hook. It starts with Progress Energy, Duke's predecessor. The Levy nuclear plant might have made sense when Progress first proposed it in 2006 at a cost of up to $6 billion. But the projected cost rose to almost $25 billion, and Progress refused to scrap the plan even as construction costs skyrocketed, the recession reduced demand for power and the price of natural gas dropped. Duke inherited the mess, ordered a thorough review and finally came to the correct conclusion a year after the companies merged.

The Legislature was a co-conspirator. Lawmakers passed a 2006 law that enabled the utilities to bill ratepayers in advance for costs tied to planning or expanding nuclear plants even if the plants were never built. It was a giveaway to Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light, which were generous with their political contributions, and it came without any safeguards for consumers. The Tampa Bay Times reported last year that Duke would keep $150 million in profits from the advance recovery fee even if the plant was never built. But instead of repealing the law, legislators only made minor adjustments this year that did not go nearly far enough.

The PSC, which regulates utilities, also failed to protect consumers. Commissioners contended their hands were tied by state law, but they did nothing to slow down the pursuit of nuclear projects that are not financially viable. While lawmakers tinkered with the advance recovery law this year to give the PSC a bit more discretion, there is nothing in the commission's history to suggest it would have seized the initiative. Instead, here is another negotiated lukewarm deal the PSC is likely to rubber stamp.

For Duke, the agreement cleans up the nuclear mess it inherited and enables the utility to focus on planning future natural gas plants, the role of renewable energy such as solar power, and energy conservation measures. For ratepayers, it provides certainty that they will stop racking up more bills for a nuclear plant that won't be built and freezes base rates. But there is little to celebrate when consumers still will pay up to $3.2 billion for one broken nuclear plant that is closed and another that is imaginary.

Comments
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18