Round 3 – Florida Paying for Risky Nuclear Costs

This blog was co-authored by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Mandy Hancock, SACE's former High Risk Energy Organizer.

Guest Blog | September 22, 2011 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

Last month, SACE again participated in the nuclear cost recovery hearings for Progress Energy Florida (PEF) and Florida Power & Light (FPL) at the Florida Public Serviceradioactive-money-lobby Commission (PSC) in Tallahassee. This is the third consecutive year that these Florida utilities have asked the PSC to approve millions of dollars in ratepayer increases to pay in advance for proposed nuclear power projects that have an uncertain future, especially in a post-Fukushima world. Utilities gained this ability in 2006 when the Florida Legislature passed anti-consumer legislation. SACE has intervened on behalf of Florida consumers every year to highlight the risks of these proposed nuclear power projects and the resulting unfairness in charging Florida ratepayers in advance. And every year the PSC has unfortunately granted the utilities’ wishes in full.

Could the third time be the charm? The PSC is set to vote in just over a month, on October 24, 2011.

Some state lawmakers in Florida have worked to repeal the legislation, including Senator Mike Fasano (District 11-R), who originally voted for it, and Representative Michelle Rehwinkle-Vasilinda (District 9-D). Senator Fasano has become an outspoken opponent of the legislation, sending letters to state governments in North Carolina and Iowa, encouraging them to vote down similar legislation in their states and expressing regret for supporting it in 2006. Despite these efforts, Fasano’s proposed amendment to repeal nuclear cost recovery failed in Florida’s last legislative session.

Fortunately, the state legislatures in North Carolina and Iowa didn’t fall for the anti-consumer scheme earlier this year. Perhaps Florida will follow suit. In 2012, Rep. Rehwinkle-Vasilinda hopes to repeal nuclear cost recovery with Florida House Bill 4301 and Senator Fasano is hoping to restrict the PSC’s overly cozy relations with the utilities through Senate Bill 172.

Since 2009, the Florida PSC has approved over $700 million for FPL and PEF’s proposed nuclear projects, including uprate projects at several existing nuclear plants, including Progress’ troubled Crystal River uprate, and two new reactors each at Turkey Point near Miami and in Levy County. If they gain PSC approval again this year, the two utilities will have been granted access to $1.2 billion of the hard-earned cash from Florida’s families and businesses. This year’s requests amount to an increase of about $5 per month per 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) for PEF customers and $2.10 for FPL customers.

Already, Progress’s Levy nuclear project has suffered serious delays and cost estimates that have risen exponentially since 2006. Initially, Progress expected the proposed Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to cost $4-6 billion each, coming online beginning in 2016. Just a few years later, the online date, if the reactors ever even come online, has bumped back to 2021 and 2022 and the estimated cost has skyrocketed to upper estimates of $22.5 billion!

Once again, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is working on behalf of Florida consumers to prevent the pickpocketing of Floridians’ wallets by nuclear-pursuing utilities. A month from now, the PSC must say no to FPL and Progress Energy’s 2011 combined request of over $350 million. Utility witnesses testified that neither PEF nor FPL have made a final decision to even build the proposed Turkey Point and Levy County reactors and that the determination will not be made until after they receive their federal operating licenses.

If they decide not to build, customers are not entitled to a refund. Why should customers bear all of the financial risk for these speculative projects when there are no guarantees that any electricity will ever be produced? Continued investment in risky nuclear projects will make a clean, safe and affordable energy future in Florida ever more distant.

Some additional resources:

  • SACE’s opening statement by Attorney Jamie Whitlock at the August FL PSC nuclear cost recovery hearings can be found by clicking here, scroll to Item number 5 “Opening Statements,” and view the 2:10:32-2:21:10 portion of the video. Find our post-hearing brief here that explains our concerns;
  • Miami New Times blog on local officials’ response to nuclear cost recovery, which includes passing opposing resolutions in South Miami, Biscayne Bay, the Village of Pinecrest, and the Miami-Dade League of Cities;
  • SACE’s press release, “We Told You So,” detailing the major obstacles the nuclear industry is facing in Florida;
  • South Miami’s Mayor Phillip Stoddard’s excellent article detailing the injustice of nuclear cost recovery;
  • SACE and Fairewinds Associate’s recent report on TVA’s Bellefonte reactor proposal; see pages 4 and 5 for discussion of PEF’s Crystal River 3 uprate challenges;
  • Talking points: 5 reasons why new nuclear reactors should not be built at Turkey Point in Miami-Dade county;
  • Talking points: why the proposed Progress Energy of Florida nuclear reactors are a bad idea for Levy County;
  • Learn more about the history of this campaign and read associated testimony at our Take Action page;
  • Take Action! Submit comments to the PSC before their October 24, 2011 vote and please support SACE’s work.

UPDATE 10/24/2011: The Public Service Commission voted unanimously to approve a combined $282 million for Progress Energy and Florida Power and Light’s early recovery of costs for their nuclear projects. You can view our response here.

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