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Duke Energy set to auction off a million items from shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant

Duke Energy is selling off parts — everything from giant heat exchangers like this to a set of everyday wrenches — from its failed nuclear plant in Crystal River.
Published Sep. 19, 2014

It's one of the most unusual auctions of the year, akin to putting a nuclear plant on eBay.

Duke Energy Florida plans to sell 1 million items from the shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant live and online from Wednesday to Friday next week.

Need a giant heat exchanger that looks like giant pipes aboard a Navy ship — large enough for a grown man to crawl through?

How about 3-ton chain hoist? Or a 30-foot, 120,000-pound trailer?

Maybe you're in the life-saving business and could use a pair of rescue stretchers or some fire hydrants?

If not, there's plenty for the regular handyman: buckets of bolts, a wide range of wrenches and steel storage containers.

Welcome to Duke Energy's garage sale.

Not often does auctioneer Heritage Global Partners of San Diego test its vocal gymnastics on parts of a nuclear plant.

But it isn't often that nuclear plants make their way to the scrap heap before their time.

The Crystal River auction will be the second of a nuclear plant this year, following the sell-off of tools and equipment at Southern California Edison's San Onofre nuclear plant, just north of San Diego in March.

With the decommissioning of nuclear plants in Florida, California and Wisconsin due to rising repair and operation costs, power companies are looking to salvage whatever they can for a few bucks before any of it lands in the dump.

"Though nuclear plants have specialized operations, many of the asset classes are used across the utility industry and many other industries," said David Barkoff, director of sales for Heritage Global Partners.

For Duke, the auction means returning some money to the 1.7 million Florida customers who have been hit hard with costs for failed nuclear projects. In all, Duke customers are paying $3.2 billion for nuclear plants that they will never get, including $1.7 billion for failed improvements at Crystal River.

"It's probably not going to generate an enormous amount of money, but it's better than just sitting there," said Charles Rehwinkel, deputy state public counsel, who represents consumers before the Public Service Commission.

As part of a settlement agreement with the state over the demise of the plant, Duke agreed that proceeds from the auction would benefit customers.

Heather Danenhower, a Duke spokeswoman, said the utility plans to reduce customers' costs related to the closing of the plant. Some items already have been sold, but the live auction with its online component will allow Duke to attract more bidders.

"The auction has been marketed internationally, giving us worldwide exposure and enabling us to capture the highest possible market price for the tools and equipment," Danenhower said. "The ultimate goal is to capture the best value for Florida customers."

Bidders on Crystal River's products can preview the items in person on Monday and Tuesday. The auction runs three days, beginning Wednesday.

The auction follows a decision to close the plant in February 2013 after a botched upgrade. As workers cut into the 42-inch-thick concrete reactor containment building to replace old steam generators, a wall cracked. Attempts to repair the crack and bring the plant back online resulted in more cracks.

(The steam generators aren't part of the auction, though Duke has sought a buyer. No takers, so far.)

In the end, analyses showed repairing Crystal River's damage would have cost as much as $3 billion. So Duke, after inheriting the mess in its merger with Progress Energy in July 2012, decided to shut down the reactor.

Decommissioning of the plant will cost an additional $1.2 billion, most of which customers already paid in their bills toward a fund required by federal regulators. Customers may face additional charges related to the complete dismantling of the plant in the future.

Duke plans to spend the next 60 years decommissioning and clearing the nuclear site. It will take decades to complete because Duke has chosen a decommissioning process called safe storage (known in the industry as SAFSTOR) during which a nuclear facility is left intact or may be partially dismantled to decontaminate the facility over time.

The PSC will review Duke's handling of the auction and sale of the products in hearings next year after reports and documents related to the deal are submitted.

Contact Ivan Penn at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

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