1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Could a Florida utility build a new nuclear plant in the next 15 years?

Plus: How much money Florida’s largest universities receive from students who apply but don’t get in.
The Crystal River nuclear plant was closed more than 10 years ago after a botched repair job. [Times (2012)]
The Crystal River nuclear plant was closed more than 10 years ago after a botched repair job. [Times (2012)]
Published Jan. 10, 2020
Updated Jan. 10, 2020

You don’t hear leaders of electric utilities talk seriously about building new nuclear plants too often these days.

They may include it as part of a list of electricity-producing options, but it’s one they rarely choose. Sort of like me adding read more Shakespeare to my yearly to-do list, but never getting around to Much Ado About Nothing.

The newest nuclear plant in Florida opened during Ronald Reagan’s first term as president. Utilities are far more likely to pay for a natural gas facility or a solar array.

Which made Lakeland Electric general manager Joel Ivy’s recent comments all the more intriguing. Ivy said he thinks the utility’s next major investment will be in nuclear power.

The Lakeland Ledger quoted him saying: “If you want to clean up your carbon footprint, nuclear will be part of your resources and it is carbon-free with zero emissions."

Ivy pointed to technological advancements that could make buying power from a company that builds small modular nuclear reactors a viable option for a utility the size of Lakeland Electric.

"I think by the time we are ready to make our next investment in the next 10 to 15 years, small modular reactors, if they prove out, are going to be the way a lot of people are going to want to go,” Ivy said during a utility meeting on Monday.

Nuclear has many advantages. Reactors produce a lot of carbon-free electricity 24 hours a day, every day. Unlike natural gas, they don’t require thousands of miles of pipeline just to get the fuel to the plant. And nuclear fuel has proven less susceptible to the ups and downs of the world commodities markets.

I’ve written about how we should keep existing nuclear plants operating for as long as possible. I’ve also outlined my great disappointment in how our local utility broke the only nuclear plant in Central Florida.

But I’m skeptical of Ivy’s prediction. Nuclear plants are exceptionally expensive to build in this country. Many recent attempts — including a proposed plant in Levy County — have resulted in massive cost overruns, which often get passed on to ratepayers. Smaller reactors can cost even more per megawatt.

Unless something major changes, it seems unlikely that the cost of building nuclear plants will fall enough to compete head-on with other electricity sources, at least on a widespread basis.

I hope I’m wrong and Ivy’s right. I hope costs come down, and we take climate change seriously enough to consider replacing aging coal and natural gas plants with nuclear reactors.

• • •

Have you ever wondered how much money universities make off of application fees from students who don’t get accepted? Me neither, but I was drawn to a report released Wednesday from LendEDU that broke down the numbers.

Florida State University rejected nearly 32,000 students applying for freshman year for the fall 2018 semester. At $30 an application, the school brought in about $954,000 from the students who didn’t make the cut, according to the report. The University of Florida and the University of Central Florida made a little more than $700,000 each. The University of South Florida brought in $603,090.

None was even close to the national leader, the University of California-Los Angeles, which brought in $6.8 million. More than 113,000 students applied to the school and only about 16,000 got in.

That’s a lot of rejection — at $70 a pop.

• • •

Last Sunday I wrote about the 2020 Regional Competitiveness Report, which ranked the Tampa Bay area against 19 peer cities in 55 economic and quality of life measures. We did great in a handful of indicators but were in the bottom half of most of the rankings.

On Thursday the sponsors of the report held a luncheon at the University of South Florida. About 500 people attended. I had the honor of moderating a panel discussion about the importance of economic inclusion, sometimes referred to as deep prosperity. The idea being that communities are better off when everyone has the opportunity to prosper.

Panelist Suzanne McCormick, the U.S. president of United Way Worldwide, made one of the most notable points when she said it was heartening to have a community conversation about inclusion in front of such a large audience. It wasn’t something that happened just a few years ago.

That’s progress.