1. Opinion

Editorial: Finally, a step for utility customers

A Florida Senate plan won’t reimburse Progress Energy customers for a nuclear plant that may never be built, but it at least ensures that companies aren’t rewarded for failures in the future.
Published Apr. 9, 2013

A Florida Senate plan won't reimburse Progress Energy customers who have been paying for years for a nuclear power plant that may never be built, but at least it would ensure that in the future, utilities can't earn profits on such failures. The vote Monday by a Senate committee to bring tighter scrutiny to the state's so-called nuclear advance fee is a step in the right direction and it is the least legislators can do to protect consumers.

The vote by the Senate public utilities committee is the first in seven years to acknowledge the fundamental flaws of the 2006 law that allowed utilities to charge consumers in advance for proposed nuclear power plants — and make a hefty profit in the process even if they failed. Under the amended plan in SB 1472, pushed by a group of Tampa Bay area senators, utilities would need to succeed at obtaining a federal license for a new nuclear plant before being able to shift much of the advance cost onto consumers. The bill would also set benchmarks and deadlines for utilities for initiating construction and reporting on its progress — something sorely missing in current law. And there is a plan for a specific review of Progress Energy's dubious Levy County project.

Such scrutiny is missing from the state's current law, which has become apparent to customers of Progress Energy, the state's second-biggest utility acquired last year by Duke Energy of Charlotte, N.C. Though the company has yet to obtain a federal license for the proposed Levy County plant from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it has charged consumers $1.5 billion in advance costs (including $150 million in profit) with little scrutiny and no guarantee the facility will ever be built.

Costs for the plant have ballooned from $5 billion to $24 billion since it was first proposed. And the energy market has dramatically changed as well, from the advent of fracking and the resulting drop in natural gas prices to the Great Recession's impact in slowing growth in energy demand in Florida. There's also growing skepticism about nuclear power since the accident in Fukushima, Japan. Just this week, former NRC chairman Gregory B. Jaczko said all 104 U.S. plants need new technology to remain safe. The situation has prompted some financial analysts to predict the Levy plant will never be built. Yet Progress Energy, and now Duke Energy, have been unwilling to say the same.

In an ideal world, lawmakers would consider an outright repeal of the nuclear cost recovery fee, as proposed by Reps. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey and Dwight Dudley of St. Petersburg. Instead, the Legislature is simply considering how to keep the same outrage from occurring again — and running into resistance from utilities all the same. This isn't a solution, but it's better than the status quo. House Speaker Will Weatherford, whose constituents are Progress Energy customers, and Senate President Don Gaetz need to see it through.


  1.  Jim Morin -- Morin Toons Syndicate
  2. Career Foreign Service officer George Kent and top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, right, are sworn in to testify during the first public impeachment hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday Nov. 13, 2019, in Washington. JOSHUA ROBERTS  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Friday’s letters to the editor.
  3. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Visitors head to Florida's Old Capitol building on the first day of the annual sixty day session, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed a joint session of the Florida Legislature Tuesday in Tallahassee.  SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Florida Legislature appears determined to pass legislation requiring parental consent.
  4. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  5. A house for rent in St. Petersburg.  [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times] SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN  |  Susan Taylor Martin
    The City Council has afforded renters more protections from discrimination and unjustified late fees.
  6. Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Thursday’s letters to the editor.
  7. Leonard Pitts undefined
    No controversy ever ends quietly on social media, writes Leonard Pitts.
  8. In this Oct. 11, 2018, photo, rescue personnel perform a search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach. GERALD HERBERT  |  AP
    While it is too late to stop global warming, we can prevent it from getting worse, two scientists write.
  9. Florida's toll roads
    Here’s what readers had to say in Wednesday’s letters to the editor.
  10. President Donald Trump talks to the media before leaving the White House, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) MANUEL BALCE CENETA  |  AP
    President Donald Trump’s conduct is the issue as House begins public phase of impeachment inquiry.