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IN SO MANY WAYS, POWER RATE HIKES ARE ROTTEN DEAL

Investor-owned utilities used to whine that publicly owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives operated at an unfair advantage. These large corporations bellyached that all utilities should have to compete on a level playing field. Maybe they had a point. The monstrous idea that rate-payers can be compelled to finance new nuclear plants in Florida results in neither a publicly nor privately owned utility. It is the kind of creature Dr. Frankenstein would stitch together.

Here is the proposal: Beginning in 2009, rate-payers must be compelled to start paying for building new nuclear power plants that might come on line in a decade or two. This exaction would not result in the rate-payers actually owning anything. The stockholders of the utility corporations who refused to invest in the projects would own everything. They would make a killing because they would own the nuclear plants in which they had not invested a dime. Our legislators are scheming to raid the public purse for private profit. Il Duce Mussolini would simply drool over a deal like this.

If investing in nuclear plants is such a sound investment, it stands to reason that wise investors would be happy to buy the stocks and bonds needed to fund these projects. What do investors know that ordinary rate-payers are not being told? Investors won't touch nuclear plants with a 10-foot pole because they know these plants are high-risk ventures. So if wise investors are shy of these investments, why dump this risk on unsuspecting rate-payers? Why should ownership remain in the hands of the very stockholders who refused to invest in the venture? Has free-market capitalism come to this?

Of course, the prior question is: Why build these plants at all? Existing generating capacity meets the current needs of rate-payers in Florida. The new plants follow the philosophy of "Build it and they will come." Wonderful.

We are to be saddled with paying for nuclear plants so we can be assaulted with more uncontrolled ransacking of our environment. Is it not enough that we must deal with clogged roads, overcrowded and underfunded public schools, and the strip mall mania of urban sprawl? Must we also pay for this insult with an involuntary assessment?

The truth is if Florida lived up to its reputation as the Sunshine State, future growth would not require additional generating capacity, nuclear or otherwise. Building codes should require every new house to be equipped with a solar water heater. This would reduce household electrical consumption by 25 to 30 percent. Because Florida ground water is a constant 72-73 degrees, geothermal units could provide both heating and cooling at a fraction of conventional systems' cost. New houses could be built with solar panels that double as roofing. This type of house would have no need to connect with any electrical power grid - proposed or existing.

But what about commerce? Perhaps some businesses contemplating locating in Florida might be attracted by cheap energy in addition to the already existing low taxes and substandard wages. Do we really need or want these kind of businesses? Any business that wants to come to Florida can pay for the new power plants itself. It is an outrage that ordinary householders should be compelled to subsidize commerce.

C.D. Chamberlain of Spring Hill has served as a pastor, mental health administrator, lobbyist and editor.

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