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PSC approves FPL’s request to charge customers $34 million in nuclear costs next year

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The Florida Public Service Commission on Monday granted Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to charge its customer base $34.2 million in nuclear power plant projects for 2016.

Public utilities can charge their customers in advance of building nuclear power plants thanks to a state law passed in 1996 — but nuclear cost recovery remains extremely controversial in Florida.

“Despite overwhelming arguments to the contrary, the Commission again gave FPL what they want at the expense of Florida’s businesses and families for increasingly speculative nuclear reactors that will likely never be built,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in a statement.

“Once again the financial interests of the public took a backseat to a big power company’s excessive speculation favoring utility shareholders,” he said. “While FPL spends hundreds of thousands of dollars crowing about the lack of consumer protections for a proposed solar ballot initiative, they and their political friends are silent about the lack of consumer protections in this nuclear power fleecing. The inevitable move to diversifying Florida’s energy mix with clean, easy to build solar power and energy efficiency was delayed but we remain steadfast that this important, necessary shift will happen.”

FPL wants to build two more nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point plant south of Miami. Its latest estimates range from $13.7 billion to $20 billion. The company is seeking to collect the money to pay for the cost of obtaining a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Florida Legislature passed the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause in 2006 almost unanimously (just one person in the entire House and Senate opposed it) to encourage construction of new nuclear plants and upgrades to older nuclear facilities.

In recent years, however, there’s been a strong backlash against the measure.

Customers with Progress Energy (since acquired by Duke Florida) paid nearly $500 million for upgrades to the Crystal River nuclear plants, a plant that was permanently shut down in 2013 due to damage involving cracks to a containment building.

In August, a host of Miami-area lawmakers, including Democratic state Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner and South Miami Mayor Phillip Stoddard expressed  concerns about the Turkey Point expansion and requested that the PSC hold hearings in Miami to review the project. The PSC denied that request.

“We’re pleased the Public Service Commission approved the company’s nuclear cost recovery request, which helps FPL to meet increasing electricity demand while saving customers money,” said Greg Brostowicz, a spokesman for Florida Power & Light. “Using the Nuclear Cost Recovery clause to pay off interest each year will save FPL customers more than $12 billion over the Turkey Point 6&7 project life. In addition, this clause has helped customers avoid paying $300 million in financing charges.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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