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Duke Energy seeks state permission to hike rates by average of $2.47 per month

Duke Energy's Crystal River nuclear plant, shown in this 2013 photo, was decommissioned, and consumers are paying for it. Maurice Rivenbark | Times
Duke Energy's Crystal River nuclear plant, shown in this 2013 photo, was decommissioned, and consumers are paying for it. Maurice Rivenbark | Times
Published May 4, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Duke Energy Florida needs a little bit more of your money.

The utility announced this week that it is seeking the recovery of $82 million in costs associated with the cancelation of its Levy County nuclear power plant. If approved by Florida utility regulators later this year, electric rates for Duke's 1.7 million customers would rise $2.51 monthly for 1,000 kilowatt-hours of usage. That's considered the kilowatt usage for the average home.

The rates wouldn't take effect until January 2018.

Duke also is seeking to recover $50 million for costs associated with the closing of the Crystal River nuclear plant, nearly $2 million less than what the company sought last year. That is 4 cents lower each month per 1,000 kilowatt hours.

So the net hike in the bill for Duke customers would be $2.47, if the Florida Public Service Commission approves both charges later this year.

Duke spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said customers were paying the Levy charges in 2015 when the company agreed in a settlement with the PSC to stop the cost recovery until it resolved a half-billion lawsuit with the project's contractor. Duke wanted a better handle of costs associated with the litigation.

That litigation ended favorably for Duke in December when a judge said it was not liable for $352 million in disputed costs charged by the Westinghouse Electric Co..

So now, Duke wants to resume charging customers, down from the $3.45 monthly per 1,000 kilowatt-hours it had charged in 2015 before the temporary halt.

Duke has faced much criticism for its handling of its nuclear projects in Florida. The utility's troubles began with the botched upgrade of the Crystal River nuclear plant in Citrus County that led to the permanent closure of Duke's sole reactor in Florida.

In addition, Duke's customers have been paying in advance for construction of two new reactors about 10 miles north of the Crystal River plant in Levy County. But as the almost $25 billion project became too costly, Duke canceled it, leaving customers on the hook for more than $1 billion in expenditures.

Duke inherited the Levy project from Progress Energy when it acquired the utility in 2012.

Duke said it is keeping its options open about the possibility at some point in the future of actually building a plant at the Levy sight. But the Office of Public Counsel, representing consumer interests before the PSC, said building a plant now is a long shot.

"There's no way in the world they are ever going to build a plant there," said Charles Rehwinkel, an OPC lawyer.

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com. Follow @Times_Levesque.

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