Duke and FP&L: A tale of two power companies

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The hulking hunk of steel that towers over US 1, across the Indian River from the Kennedy Space Center, stands as a monument to one utility’s success — and another’s failure. Come June 1, Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest power company, plans to flip the switch on the state’s newest natural gas plant. The 1,250-megawatt power generator took just over two years to build and will cost FPL customers $970 million. That’s about $130 million under budget. Duke Energy customers could only wish to be so lucky.

For the $3.1 billion Duke wasted on the now-shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant and the proposed Levy County nuclear plant that may never get built, the utility could have constructed three natural gas plants with more power than both of the reactor projects combined. And Duke would still have had almost $200 million left over to buy fuel for the gas units.

Now Duke, after squandering customers’ money on its ill-fated nuclear ambitions, wants to build a natural gas plant to replace the broken Crystal River reactor. That’s another billion dollars customers will have to pay.

Critics say the blame extends far beyond Duke.

“The lack of regulatory oversight, the lack of legislative oversight and the lack of planning are costing the state dearly,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which has been battling against fees charged to utility customers in advance for new nuclear plants.

“It’s a broken system,” Smith said. “We’re seeing it play out with sort of tragic ramifications in Florida.”

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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.