Clean energy group to challenge PSC decision on nuke funding

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An advocacy group will ask the state Supreme Court to reject a regulatory decision that would allow Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida to collect about $282 million from customers next year for nuclear-power projects, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy notified the state Public Service Commission last week that it is taking the unusual step of appealing an order that allows the utilities to collect money for work on future or existing nuclear plants.

The dispute centers on FPL and Progress billing customers for upfront costs on four planned nuclear reactors that would not start producing electricity for at least another decade — and, critics say, might never produce electricity.

Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said consumers are getting hit with costs for “imaginary nuclear plants” and that the Public Service Commission is not properly carrying out a 2006 law.

“It’s a scam,” Smith said Tuesday. “It’s an absolute scam of monumental proportions.”

The 2006 law, which was designed to encourage development of more nuclear power, has long been controversial because it allows utilities to collect money far in advance of plants being completed. FPL has proposed building two nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point complex in Miami-Dade County, while Progress plans to build two reactors in Levy County.

Each year, utilities seek to pass along costs for such expenses as planning and permitting through a process known as “nuclear cost recovery.” Those costs are a relatively small portion of customers’ overall monthly electric bills, which also include base rates and costs of such needs as power-plant fuel.

After holding hearings, the Public Service Commission in October approved allowing FPL to collect $196 million in nuclear-cost recovery from customers in 2012 and Progress to collect nearly $86 million. That decision was finalized in a Nov. 23 order.

While the future reactors have spurred the controversy, most of the money FPL would collect in 2012 would help finance upgrades at already-existing nuclear plants in Miami-Dade and St. Lucie counties.

Spokespeople for the Public Service Commission and Progress said Tuesday they could not comment, as details of the appeal have not been filed with the Supreme Court. But FPL spokesman Neil Nissan issued a statement that said regulators found his company’s costs were “prudently incurred” and that cost projections were sound.

“The commission made its findings after a full and fair evidentiary hearing where all parties, including SACE (the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy), were represented by counsel and had an opportunity to submit evidence and cross-examine witnesses,” the statement said.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is active in five southeastern stakes, works on issues such as increasing the use of renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. It opposes expansion of nuclear power.

During this fall’s hearings, attorneys for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, consumers and major power users questioned whether the utilities will ever build the multibillion-dollar nuclear plants.

Smith said a key issue in the appeal will center on whether the utilities want to collect the money next year to maintain the “option” of building the nuclear reactors.

He said the Public Service Commission didn’t properly apply the 2006 law and that utilities should be required to show they intend to build the plants. He said the commission “appears to be making up the rules as they go on how to interpret the law.”

In the Nov. 23 order, the commission acknowledged the concerns of opponents, but it said the utilities had shown evidence of planning to build the nuclear plants.

“We find that PEF’s actions continue to demonstrate its intent to build the (Levy nuclear project),” the order says in one section about Progress Energy Florida.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.