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PSC HEARS NUKE PLAN FROM FPL

Florida continued Wednesday to take its first faltering steps toward what has been billed as the "nuclear renaissance."

The Public Service Commission opened the first of three days of hearings on Florida Power and Light's plans to build two new nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point power station, 25 miles south of Miami.

The Turkey Point project is one of about 30 U.S. nuclear plants on the drawing board. The nuclear industry will watch FPL's regulatory path closely. And no utility will keep a closer eye on it than Progress Energy Florida, which plans in early March to make a case for building a nuclear plant in Levy County.

Buddy Eller, a spokesman for Progress Energy, said the hearings preview the questions they might face from the commission, and the objections they might face from the public.

If so, based on Wednesday's proceedings, Progress Energy will grapple with the commission on two central issues: whether it's in the best interest of customers to shoulder the multibillion-dollar burden of new nuclear plants, and to what extent the commission can help mitigate the financial risk.

When Progress Energy announced plans to build a new reactor in Levy County, it offered an estimate of $2-billion to $3-billion for a single reactor. That number has since climbed, although Progress Energy won't offer a new estimate until it files its application to the commission in March. FPL's estimates for a similar, two-reactor project run from $12-billion to $18-billion.

A 2007 law allows utilities to charge customers for construction of a nuclear plant years before the plant produces power.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or (813) 225-3117.

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