On March 18th, I attended the Florida State Senate’s workshop on nuclear cost recovery, also known as Florida’s “nuclear tax,” where industry advocates and the big power companies extolled the many virtues of nuclear energy for the Sunshine State, with nary a mention of the skyrocketing costs of the proposed new reactor projects nor the problems posed by radioactive nuclear waste, among numerous other concerns. A few days later, I flew over Miami-Dade County mid-day and marveled at the abundant sunshine spilling over flat, barren roofs all across the treeless area. So much solar energy, so many flat roofs and not one single solar panel to be seen.
It was a relief then to see the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee host a more balanced workshop last week with testimony from Peter Bradford, a former state utility regulator and former commissioner with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Mr. Bradford discussed the flaws of Florida’s nuclear cost recovery statute, detailing the history of such laws and listing the provisions the Florida law is missing to protect consumers. In response to an ongoing bi-partisan effort to repeal nuclear cost recovery, currently with House Bill 4003, Speaker of the House Will Weatherford (R) said earlier this year that he would make sure this issue was finally vetted in the state legislature. That’s good news for Florida consumers and a step in the right direction to remedy this boondoggle. The repeal bill is sponsored by Representatives Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D) and Mike Fasano (R). The Senate has offered up an amendment bill that makes an effort, but does little to actually protect consumers.
To me, it seemed that many in the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee are sold on the industry’s notion that nuclear power is the panacea of fuel diversity for Florida.
And the power companies appear to give little attention to the viability of solar and energy efficiency as a solid resource for the Sunshine State. Utility officials point to maps of the United States and proclaim, “we’re no southwest!” Meanwhile, Germany has a solar profile similar to that of Alaska and is leading the way in rooftop solar generation, with 5 times more generation than the United States. A report for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Big Risks, Better Alternatives, provides more information on how efficiency and solar can go a long way in Florida.
Hopefully Florida’s State Legislature will hear from their constituents and realize that enough is enough — ratepayers need a state energy policy that provides protections and relies upon affordable, safe energy choices such as energy efficiency and renewables, including solar. Right now putting too many eggs into the nuclear basket and pushing all of the risks onto ratepayers for high cost, high risk new reactors is just not fair. A new report, Public Risk, Private Profit, Ratepayer Cost, Utility Imprudence, by economic analyst Mark Cooper of the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment, delves into the anti-consumer nuclear cost recovery statutes in states such as Florida and warns of dire consequences ahead for ratepayers. Let’s hope serious, negative impacts can be averted before it’s too late.
–SACE’s High Risk Energy Choices Director, Sara Barczak, contributed to this blog post.