Florida Nuclear Debacles: Throwing Even More Good Money After Bad

This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | August 8, 2012 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

Once again the Tampa Bay Times hits the nail on the head with their blistering editorial on the continued debacle at the Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida. Their continued investigative reports have shed much needed light on this serious situation. Crystal River, which we coined as a “Humpty Dumpty” reactor because of it’s many serious problems, has not been online in years but yet is costing Progress Energy of Florida ratepayers millions of dollars for “attempts” to repair — with the final price tag unknown but well over a billion dollars. We wholeheartedly agree with the Times when they said:

Paying for all of that would be hard to stomach if the nuclear plant were working, but it is absurd for ratepayers to be forced to pay those bills to upgrade a plant that may never be fixed.

Now with the complicated merger of Progress and Duke playing out, it appears that unfortunately more good money is being thrown after bad given the recent decision to spend another $200 million to possibly fix the reactor — a reactor that to many has appeared unsalvageable. The top-end estimated costs for the repairs were $1.3 billion and now that has been deemed likely too low by Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy didn’t sign on to a settlement agreement last February that dealt with Crystal River and though hindsight is 20/20, we knew it would be a bad deal for ratepayers and unfortunately, we were right.

The Tampa Bay Times editorial asked, “Who is looking out for ratepayers?” Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is doing just that. We have challenged the nuclear cost recovery statute, dubbed the “nuclear tax,” before the Florida State Supreme Court. This anti-consumer state legislation was passed back in 2006 and allows utilities such as Progress and Florida Power & Light (FPL) to charge their customers in advance for costs associated with new nuclear generation. The Crystal River uprate project falls into that category and thus provides a clear example as to why this legislation has got to go. Thankfully there is a bi-partisan group of state lawmakers led by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda and Senator Mike Fasano and local officials such as Village of Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner that have led the charge to repeal this legislation. The Florida AARP also weighed in, supporting our challenge. We look forward to our day in court later this fall, October 4, 2012.

But before then, Mr. Rogers, recently appointed as CEO of the two merged utilities,  will appear before the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) next Monday, August 13 to talk about how the merger will affect Florida consumers. We hope that the Commission will actually ask the hard questions about the Crystal River debacle and Progress’ other ill-advised, $20 billion-plus nuclear pursuit to build two reactors in Levy County and be successful in getting some answers. Regardless, it’s time for the bleeding to stop. The hard-earned money of Florida consumers should not be dumped into more and more wasted efforts to “fix” Crystal River’s broken reactor or the phantom Levy Co. reactors. We welcome Mr. Rogers to make that decision and to do it soon. Such a decision will benefit the newly merged utilities, Florida businesses and households and that clearly makes it the right thing to do.

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