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Duke Energy Florida proposes plan to revamp energy grid

Among the proposals is retiring its coal plants eight years ahead of schedule.
Duke Energy Florida will use some of a refund for storing its spent nuclear fuel to offset the cost of a newly proposed plan. Pictured is the retired nuclear portion of its Crystal River plant. | [Courtesy of Duke Energy Florida]
Duke Energy Florida will use some of a refund for storing its spent nuclear fuel to offset the cost of a newly proposed plan. Pictured is the retired nuclear portion of its Crystal River plant. | [Courtesy of Duke Energy Florida] [ Duke Energy Florida ]
Published Jan. 16

Duke Energy Florida is asking regulators for permission to begin implementing a sweeping plan centered around renewable energy. Filed late Thursday, its proposal would revamp its energy grid and hasten the retirement of its coal plants.

“This agreement provides a path to minimize bill increases, while continuing to make smart investments that will offer customers greater reliability, cleaner energy alternatives and innovative technology,” said Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy Florida president.

Among the plan’s proposals are continuing to “modernize” its electric grid to assist with the grid’s reliability, ramping up electric vehicle charging station programs and supporting pilot programs for new technology. Credit card fees would go away for residential customers paying their bills, and hurricane-related costs to customers would go down.

Duke Energy also would retire its coal plants at the Crystal River plant eight years early, taking them offline in 2034.

Overall, the cost would be $5 billion to customers over a three-year period, beginning in January 2022. This would be a 3 percent to 4 percent uptick in customer bills.

The plan comes after five months of negotiations between state utility customer advocate the Office of Public Counsel, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, White Springs Agricultural Chemicals and Nucor Steel Florida.

Jon Moyle, lawyer with the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said the proposal is important because of the rate certainty it provides.

“Duke’s efforts to improve its electric system are important so Florida businesses have reliable electricity at reasonable, predictable costs,” Moyle said.

As part of the negotiations, Duke Energy agreed to put more than $170 million toward the cost of the plan to save customers money, said Charles Rehwinkel, lawyer with the Office of Public Counsel. The funds come from two sets of refunds that the U.S. Department of Energy gave Duke Energy, one of which is related to maintaining the spent nuclear fuel at its Crystal River plant.

Should the deal be approved, Duke Energy also would have a lower return on investment for that period. The agreement would make its return 9.85 percent, the lowest of any utility in the state, down from its rate now of 10.5 percent.

“There are pluses and minuses in here, but the overall plus for me is that (it’s) favorable to the customer,” Rehwinkel said. “I think it bodes well for the future.”

Duke Energy expects the Florida Public Service Commission to hear the issue in the year’s second quarter.