Progress Energy’s earning down, company still studying repairs to nuclear plant

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Progress Energy on Thursday reported lower earnings during the first three months of 2012 and said it continues to decide whether to repair an idled nuclear plant at Crystal River. The North Carolina-based utility reported ongoing earnings of $143 million, or 48 cents a share, during the first quarter, down from $202 million, or 69 cents a share during the same period in 2011.

Progress Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson said during a conference call with analysts that a key factor in the lower earnings was “incredibly mild weather” in the Carolinas, affecting electricity usage. Johnson said a wide-ranging settlement agreement reached early this year by Progress Energy Florida will help provide greater certainty for the company. That agreement, approved by state regulators, sets base electric rates and deals with issues such as the repairs at Crystal River and a proposal to build two nuclear reactors in Levy County.

A containment building at Crystal River was damaged in 2009 during a project to replace a steam generator. More damage was found last year when the plant was being prepared to operate again, leading to questions about whether the utility should undertake a massive repair effort. Johnson said during the conference call that engineering work continues and that Progress is still trying to determine how much of the costs would be covered by insurance. If Progress gives the go-ahead for the repairs, he said work could start before 2013. “I think there’s plenty of time to get this started by the end of the year,” Johnson said.

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.