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FPL and Progress Energy Again Asking To Pass Along Ghost-Nuke Plant Costs

| August 6, 2011

The shape of Florida Power & Light's and Progress Energy's nuclear power shakedown. (Michal Brcak)

The shape of Florida Power & Light's and Progress Energy's shakedown. (Michal Brcak)

State regulators next week will plunge back into questions about expanding nuclear power in Florida — and consider the down payment that residents and businesses will have to make in 2012.

Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida are seeking to pass along about $335 million in nuclear costs to customers next year. While a large chunk of the money would go toward upgrading already-existing nuclear plants, customers also would cover expenses for new plants that are not slated to start operating for at least another decade.

The companies, backed by many state policymakers, contend that Florida needs to shift to more nuclear power to help reduce reliance on natural gas and coal and to save money for customers long term.

In a document earlier this year, Progress argued in favor of new nuclear reactors in Levy County by saying the company and Florida “need a more diverse energy portfolio to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil, which can be extremely volatile in price and supply. New, advanced-design nuclear power remains the best available technology to provide reliable electric service and to make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

But attorneys for consumers, business and environmental groups are balking at many of the costs that the utilities want to pass along to ratepayers.

In filings with the Florida Public Service Commission, the attorneys openly questioned whether the utilities will wind up building the new nuclear plants. Also, they have pushed to get better information about how much the nuclear projects will ultimately cost and how long they will take.

“I think we are entitled to look at the big picture,” said Vicki Gordon Kaufman, an attorney for the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, a coalition of businesses that regularly takes part in utility cases.

The debate will play out during a multi-day hearing that is scheduled to start Wednesday at the Public Service Commission.

Trying to encourage more nuclear power, state lawmakers in 2006 approved allowing utilities to incrementally pass along project costs rather than waiting until a power plant starts operating.

As a result, FPL and Progress go before the Public Service Commission each year to justify the costs for their nuclear projects. But since the legislation passed, it also has meant customers have been required to pay for nuclear projects that will not start producing electricity for years — and might not ever be finished.

FPL is seeking approval to collect about $196 million in 2012 to help upgrade nuclear plants in St. Lucie and Miami-Dade counties and to continue taking steps toward building two new reactors at the Miami-Dade site, which is known as Turkey Point.

If the commission goes along with FPL’s request, a residential customer would pay $2.09 a month next year to cover the costs. That figure is based on a customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, though many customers use more than that amount.

Most of FPL’s requested costs, about $172 million, are related to upgrading the already-existing plants. In a filing with the commission, FPL President and Chief Executive Officer Armando Olivera said those projects would increase the company’s nuclear capacity about 15 percent.

But the other groups in the hearing are expected to dispute some of FPL’s costs for the upgrade project. For example, the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers, argues that FPL decisions to “fast track” the project led to higher-than-necessary costs — an argument that FPL disputes.

In contrast to FPL, most of the debate about Progress likely will center on its plans to build two new reactors in Levy County.

The utility is asking to collect about $135 million next year for that project, with the company saying the reactors would start operating in 2021 and 2022. The total estimated cost of the project is between $22 billion and $25 billion, according to a filing by the Office of Public Counsel.

Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel said Thursday he will likely argue that Progress should only be able to receive roughly half of the $135 million it is requesting. He said he wants the commission to approve the “bare minimum” that Progress needs for costs such as the lengthy process of licensing the project.

Rehwinkel said Progress has already pushed back the estimated operating date of the project by about five years, and he questions whether it will be ready by 2021.

In a document filed with the commission, John Elnitsky, a Progress vice president, said the company is carrying out the Levy County project at a “slower pace” than earlier expected. But he said the company is doing the work needed to meet the 2021 and 2022 dates.

As part of its request to the commission, Progress also sought about $22 million to help pay for upgrading an existing nuclear plant at its Crystal River complex. But company spokesman Tim Leljedal said that request has shrunk to about $5 million because Progress needs to do major repairs at the plant related to replacing concrete in a containment building’s walls.

If the commission approves Progress’ revised request for the Levy and Crystal River projects, residential customers in 2012 would pay about $4.66 a month for 1,000 kilowatt hours to cover the costs, Leljedal said in an e-mail.

The commission hearing comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of nuclear power, largely because an earthquake this year triggered a disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant.

But Florida leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott and many lawmakers, have made clear in recent years that they support expanding nuclear power. Also, the St. Petersburg Times reported this week that PSC Chairman Art Graham said he sees nuclear power as a critical power source in the future.

Mayco Villafana, an FPL spokesman, said in an e-mail this week that nuclear plants will save customers billions of dollars long term because they do not require the ongoing costs of buying fuel such as natural gas.

“Nuclear power continues to be an important part of providing affordable, clean and reliable electric service to our customers,” Villafana said.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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14 Responses for “FPL and Progress Energy Again Asking To Pass Along Ghost-Nuke Plant Costs”

  1. Liana G says:

    …”But Florida leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott and many lawmakers, have made clear in recent years that they support expanding nuclear power. Also, the St. Petersburg Times reported this week that PSC Chairman Art Graham said he sees nuclear power as a critical power source in the future.”

    “Nuclear power continues to be an important part of providing affordable, clean and reliable electric service to our customers,” Villafana said.”

    Are these folks paying attention to conversations and decisions being made around the world following the Japan disaster. What is wrong with wind and solar energy – SAFE, AFFORDABLE, CLEAN, and RELIABLE – on top of creating jobs and getting our economy back on track. Since we are going to have to foot the cost, shouldn’t we get to choose our energy source?

    Okay attorneys for consumers, business and environmental groups – let’s start a petition!

  2. Tom Brown says:

    If FPL wants to build more nukes, the advance investment should come out of the current profits of the shareholders. They would get repaid, with reasonable interest, when and if the plants go online. If the project fails, then the shareholders take the hit. Charging customers 10 years in advance of getting the product is absurd. Some of them won’t be alive, others likely will have moved out of Florida in search of employment elsewhere.

  3. palmcoaster says:

    Agree with Liana on this one..lets start a petition..

  4. Val Jaffee says:

    “Nuclear power and mankind cannot coexist. We survivors of the atomic bomb have said this all along. And yet, the use of nuclear power was camouflaged as ‘peaceful’ and continued to progress. You never know when there’s going to be a natural disaster. You can never say that there will never be a nuclear accident.”

    Sumiteru Taniguchi, now 82, and currently director of the Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors Council

  5. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Wind and solar power are myths. Nuclear power is safe if the plants aren’t built on earthquake fault lines or in potential flood areas.

  6. Robert says:

    My first comment was posted to the wrong location.

    Palm Coaster and Liana G the petition process is a method that may be used to place a proposed amendment on the ballot. It is the only means that uses voter initiative. All others are controlled by the political parties not the voters.
    It is not an easy task. I have done preliminary research; first a PAC must be formed. Next is getting petitions signed by a number of voters equal to eight percent of votes cast in the last presidential election. The petitions must also come from at least one-half of the congressional districts of the state.

    Needless to say a grass roots organization will be facing those with vested interests to maintain the status quo. And their pockets have no bottoms. But I would be willing to work to eliminate the development of nuclear power in Florida. At least allow the voters to be the ones who determine nuclear power’s future and not the bought and paid for peoples representatives.

  7. Jack says:

    @LAC: Roughly a third of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant. I wonder how safe you’ll think nuclear power is when you start to grow a penis from your forehead? ;)

  8. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Be sure voters get the straight poop on nuclear power before it goes on the ballot.

  9. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Jack, I’ve been all over the fruited plain from coast to coast and border to border many times, ditto Europe and Mexico and Canada and I’ve never seen a creature such as you describe, but I have seen many other strange things having nothing to do with nuclear energy plants.

  10. Val Jaffee says:

    Robert – would creating a facebook page be a good starting point?

  11. NortonSmitty says:

    LAC, radiation is as good of a theory as any to describe the obvious loss of brain cells that somehow instantly spread across the American population to create the TeaBagging phenomenon.

  12. Jack says:

    [Comment disallowed]

  13. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Nort, the term you are using to describe people who support the tea party movement is very a vulgar euphemism for a homosexual act of a particular kind. Please find another way of referring to those with whom you disagree. Otherwise, I can’t and probably many others, can’t take anything you say seriously.


    Full Disclosure: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the tea party although I support many of their positions.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Smitty, not to worry: your teabagging terminology is safe here. I addressed the recurring matter at length in a comment some time back, and may at some point convert that to a more permanent dictionary entry somewhere on site: a few readers who know not what they do (with the English language in particular, poor thing) can use it. Our lawabider herself, Queen Gertrude that she is, continues to allude disapprovingly to certain vulgarities, though between the smuttiness of ideas and ideological fanaticism and vile contempt posing as polite discourse and the occasional fuck, piss and shit honestly slung here and there, give me the latter holy trinity over the hypocrites’ disingenuous tongues any day.

      My lapsang souchong’s teabagging is done. Time to open my mouth to that delight.

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