SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Overview of Florida’s New Nuclear Reactor Proposals
News in Review:
SACE’s involvement in advancing a clean energy future for Florida goes back many years, but in 2006 our work took a new turn as the Florida State Legislature passed an energy bill that included anti-consumer legislation (nuclear cost recovery), known as Florida’s “nuclear tax” that allowed utilities to collect, in advance, costs associated with new nuclear generation, regardless if the projects were ever completed. New nuclear generation included uprates to existing reactors (at St. Lucie and Turkey Point) along with new nuclear reactors. Four new Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors were proposed — two in Levy Co. by former Progress Energy Florida, now Duke Energy Florida, and two by Florida Power & Light (FPL), at their existing Turkey Point site near Miami. With the Florida Public Service Commission’s (PSC) continued approval of years of utility requests, well over $1.3 billion and climbing has been collected for this unfair “nuclear tax.” FPL alone has had $280 million approved just for Turkey Point’s expansion through this nuclear pre-payment scheme as of the October 19, 2015 decision by the PSC. Much of that money was for new reactors projects that are unlikely to be built, such as Duke’s Levy project that was wisely abandoned before the PSC in mid-2013, though they continued to pursue a federal license. Read on for a more detailed history of this ongoing campaign.
To take action to prevent new nuclear reactors in Florida and access more information, click here.
State Efforts–Protecting Florida’s Consumers & Economy
SACE has intervened at the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) for many years to stop Duke Energy Florida (formerly Progress Energy Florida) and FPL from unfairly charging their customers in advance to help them build new reactors in Florida. Nuclear cost recovery is outlined in Florida Statute 366.93 that was part of a 2006 state energy bill (SB 888). Since 2008, well over $1.3 billion has been approved by the PSC for the utilities to collect from ratepayers, in advance, for these risky nuclear projects. To see what could have happened had the Levy reactor proposal not been cancelled, click here for the 2012 estimated nuclear cost recovery clause rate impacts, which were expected to reach as much as $50 per month for then-Progress Energy customers.
In February 2013, Duke Energy announced that they would not complete the troubled, broken Crystal River 3 reactor. Though billions of dollars were spent, including costs that ratepayers had to pay in advance due to the botched project and will spend in replacement power costs and for a new natural gas plant, the “Humpty Dumpty” reactor never came back online, with no electricity produced since it went offline in fall 2009.
During the 2013 state legislative session, the nuclear tax was a top issue of concern. After much debate and political maneuvering, a moderate attempt to fix the problematic statute passed. SB1472 was then signed into law in June.
Shortly thereafter, Duke essentially cancelled the Levy nuclear project before the PSC. Read more in our press release. While abandoning the project was the right decision, customers are still unfairly on the hook for costs associated with both Crystal River and Levy Co. for the next few years and Duke continues to pursue a federal license.
Now just FPL’s proposed expansion of Turkey Point remains — and we are highly skeptical that the project will ever be built, but ratepayer money is still being spent in advance because the unfair nuclear tax is ultimately still in place and the PSC keeps approving FPL’s requests. Additionally, serious safety and potential consumer concerns related to the extended power uprate project for FPL’s St. Lucie Unit 2 nuclear reactor were identified, with SACE submitting formal petitions with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March 2014 that were ultimately ignored. Learn more about that effort here.
Going to Court
We moved forward with our challenge to the constitutionality of the nuclear cost recovery clause in the Florida Supreme Court and presented oral arguments before the Court on October 4, 2012. Read more about the lively exchange that occurred and the media coverage in our blog post, and view images of the argument here. On May 2, 2013, we received the court’s ruling against our case.
The Florida Supreme Court case was grounded in our history of intervention on this issue. In 2011 SACE intervened in the annual nuclear cost recovery clause docket, questioning the utilities true “intent to build,” which is mandated by the statute. View our final brief here. In November 2011, the PSC approved a combined $282 million in cost recovery for FPL and Progress and SACE filed an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court in December. Listen to our January 2012 teleconference outlining our concerns. In a related action, the PSC also approved a controversial settlement agreement and stipulation for Progress’ critically damaged Crystal River ‘Humpty Dumpty’ reactor and the proposed two Levy Co. reactors. SACE was the only party to object. We filed our initial brief with the Florida Supreme Court on April 2, 2012 (and attached appendix). Amici briefs (“Friends of the Court” briefs) supporting our challenge were filed by diverse parties including a bipartisan group of Florida state lawmakers, the Village of Pinecrest and AARP. We appreciated all of the support from our allies and those that filed amici briefs. We are disappointed in the verdict, but not wholly surprised in the outcome.
Working to Protect Ratepayers
Big developments happened during the 2016 Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause docket before the PSC when FPL first request a waiver from having to do the required feasibility study for the new reactors. SACE was again an active intervenor — find SACE’s objection to that request here. Ultimately, FPL requested that their $22 million in cost recovery to be deferred for consideration to 2017; find SACE’s prehearing statement here. The PSC approved the deferment ending the intervention.
SACE has intervened year-after-year in the annual proceedings — the last complete review was in 2015 — a hearing was held on August 18, 2015 and the PSC once again approved all that FPL asked for, another $34 million, on October 19. When numerous reactor projects in Florida bit the dust in 2013, SACE was there raising the hard questions (see our blog post too) and continues today.
Another key year in our intervention history was in the 2010 Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause docket. Progress and FPL were asking the PSC to approve more than $200 million in combined costs. SACE expert witnesses, economist Dr. Mark Cooper, and experienced nuclear engineer, Mr. Arnold Gundersen, submitted their testimony in July. Listen to the August media teleconference discussing their testimony, SACE’s concerns and the “We Told You So” message. A full hearing was held for Progress at the FL PSC in late August and our final brief was filed in September. FPL’s full hearing never materialized due to a controversial stipulation that was reached that allowed FPL to recover their costs for 2010, subject to refund, but the PSC review of the issues was deferred until the 2011 docket. SACE opposed the stipulation and was the only party to do so. The proposed Levy reactors experienced a $5 billion cost increase just since 2009 along with a 5-year delay. Unfortunately, the PSC unanimously approved Progress’ $164 million request on October 26, 2010.
Going even further back, SACE also intervened in the 2009 Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause process, presenting experts that urged the PSC to reject FPL & Progress’ request for over half a billion of rate-payer dollars. This was discussed in a media teleconference, listen here. Unfortunately, the PSC staff issued a recommendation that provided the utilities with nearly all they asked for. The PSC Commissioners voted 3-1 to approve FPL and Progress’ scheme in October. Commissioner Argenziano was the sole dissenting vote. SACE filed information with the FL PSC highlighting the serious safety concerns the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced with the Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design. In November 2009, the PSC issued the final order.
State Efforts–Protecting Florida’s Environment
SACE also challenged Progress Energy of Florida’s application before the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to certify an undeveloped site in Levy County where the utility proposes to build two new nuclear reactors. Progress filed the application in 2008 and the Siting Board, which consisted of then-Governor Crist and his cabinet, voted unanimously to approve Progress’ application on August 11, 2009. Ally groups challenged the state siting of FPL’s Turkey Point reactors, with hearings held over the summer of 2013. Unfortunately, FPL received approval from the Siting Board under Gov. Rick Scott in May 2014 over the objections of local elected officials and agencies, concerned residents and organization given the significant, widespread impacts.
Federal Licensing Efforts
In August 2010, SACE along with the National Parks Conservation Association’s Suncoast Regional Office and concerned private citizens intervened in FPL’s effort to get approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a combined operating license (COL) for two new Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors at its existing Turkey Point facility near Miami. For many years the Everglades Law Center and Emory University School of Law’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic have provided excellent legal counsel. The NRC held a pre-hearing conference in Homestead, Florida on Friday, November 19, 2010 and SACE and our allies turned out in force advocating for a clean energy, nuclear-free future for Florida! View NRC information on the Turkey Point licensing process here. Separate interventions were filed by the Village of Pinecrest and CASE-Citizens Allied for Safe Energy. An initial victory occurred when the licensing board ruled at the end of February 2011 that all the organizations had standing and admitted some of the contentions. In March 2011, contentions from each challenge were accepted by the federal licensing board, giving us even more legal traction in our challenge to their license.
Our contention about concerns with groundwater contamination and a complicated radial collector well system under Biscayne Bay remains “alive” and an evidentiary hearing will be held in May 2017. In February 2015 the NRC released the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the combined operating license. Hearings were held in Miami and Homestead in April with public comments originally due May 22 until the Seminole Tribe of Florida, National Park Service and EPA requested an extension — comments were then due July 17, 2015. In April 2015, we filed a new contention given the insufficient analysis in the draft EIS of proposed wetland mitigation measures and oral argument was held in July. Unfortunately the licensing board ruled against us. The NRC announced that they received over 11,000 comments on the draft EIS and were extending their review by at least 7 months — from February 2016 to October 2016. Find the final EIS here.
In previous related legal work back in April 2011, SACE joined the AP1000 Oversight Group in petitioning the NRC to halt its fast-tracked approval process of the AP1000 reactor design. Later that month, SACE joined over 40 other organizations challenging the NRC to suspend all reactor licensing proceedings until the NRC completes a thorough post-Fukushima examination. In August 2011, SACE and other intervenors followed up with Fukushima specific contentions to the combined operating license applications projects across the nation, including Turkey Point. Though the NRC eventually rejected our challenges, we exhausted the process in order to protect public health and safety.