Group blames Rick Scott for Duke Energy advanced fees

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Duke Energy has attracted the ire of numerous groups. The Sierra Club. The Florida Consumer Action Network. Awake Pinellas. Conglomerations of all of the above under several names. And now there’s another, Floridians for Fair Rates.

The group is lashing out at the utility giant for collecting advanced nuclear recovery fees from customers for two plants, one in Levy County and one in Crystal River. The Crystal River plant broke and the plant in Levy County was cancelled.

But the group isn’t just attacking Duke. It’s turning the nuclear cost recovery issue an anti-Rick Scott smear campaign.

They’re not only blaming Rick Scott for inaction in returning the more than $3 billion that’s been collected from Duke’s rate payers for projects that never produced an iota of energy, they’re accusing him of doing favors for the energy giant.

“We’re calling on him to return the half million dollars in campaign contributions he received from Duke power,” said St. Pete City Councilman Karl Nurse. “We can’t trust Rick Scott to put our interests ahead of the special interests.

But allowing Duke Energy to collect fees before even starting projects wasn’t the governor’s decision. It was the 2006 class of the Florida legislature. That law was tightened up a bit in 2013 making it a little harder for utilities to collect advanced fees, but the Florida Public Service Commission can still approve it, and they have.

That’s another problem the group has with Governor Scott. He appointed the PSC.

“The PSC has rolled over on all of these matters and so the connection is very clear,” Nurse said.

So far Duke Energy has charged about 1.7 million rate-payers about $3.2 billion. That’s roughly $1900 per customer.

“That’s what they’ve ripped us off from and Rick Scott says that’s fine, steal the customers money,” said Frank Lupo, a retired teacher and 28-year Duke (and all of its previous names) customer.

Politifact reviewed similar claims against Governor Scott and ruled them half true. Sure, Scott could put a little more pressure on the legislature to do something, but ultimately it’s not his call. The power to approve nuclear cost recovery falls solely on the PSC and only the legislature has the power to change or repeal the law that gave them that power.

Advanced cost recovery isn’t the only way Floridians for Fair Rates is attacking the governor. Scott has skirted the issue of climate change throughout his administration, but has finally agreed to meet with scientists to talk about it.

Activists are skeptical.

“He’s looking out for his buddies,” said consumer lawyer Matt Weidner. “We need responsible energy policy.”

Winnie Foster, an activist and grassroots organizer in St. Pete for more than 40-years, wags her finger at the governor too.

“In the Governor’s mansion there is an occupant who likes to say over and over again, ‘let’s get to work.’ Well, let’s take that challenge,” Foster said. “We need you to sit down and listen to the scientists who are going to come and talk to you.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.