Rep. Vasilinda files first House bill for 2014 session, would repeal advanced nuke cost recovery law

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After years of Florida legislators promising “cheap power,” the first bill filed in the House for the 2014 session calls for residents to stop paying for energy projects that will never be completed.  

State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda submitted HB 4001 to eliminate the Advanced Nuclear Cost Recovery law (ANCR).  The bill comes after the growing outcry over Florida residents continuing to pay for a recently cancelled Levy County nuclear power plant.

The state passed ANCR in 2006, allowing energy companies to charge ratepayers up front for design and construction costs of nuclear power plants, such as the now-abandoned Crystal River and Levy County plants.

Last week, Duke Energy — successor of Progress Energy Florida — proclaimed they would pull the plug on the $24.7 billion project 90 miles northwest of Orlando. The announcement came after a negotiated settlement with state regulators to start recovering $135 million from Florida consumers for the closed Crystal River nuclear plant in Citrus County.

The Charlotte, N.C. -based utility company will begin by writing off $295 million for the Crystal River and $65 million of costs for the Levy County plant in the second quarter 2013. As terms of the agreement, Duke will also avoid answering questions about project delays and cost overruns in public hearings with legislators.

Adding fuel to the fire is that Florida consumers will remain on the hook for much of what was already spent on the non-operational plants, a total bill of up to $1.5 billion collected under ANCR, as Duke shareholders continue to get around $150 million.

“While I’m pleased that Duke Energy decided to cancel the project now rather than later,” Vasilinda said in a statement announcing the introduction of HB 4001, “It is still hard to believe that the consequence of the law is that they and other utility companies can continue collecting for plants that won’t be built,” she added.

Duke blames the decision to halt construction on licensing delays by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as opposition from state legislators on the ANCR law, which allow companies the ability to recover costs long before the plants are operating. They said the company would continue to seek federal approval while making the decision to build on the Lake County site, expecting the NRC to grant a license for the plant in late 2014 or early 2015.

Since last week’s announcement, several lawmakers have bolstered efforts to repeal the ANCR. Rep. Dwight Dudley, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, won election mainly by calling for the overturn the nuclear advance.

“I don’t give a damn how they justify taking our money,” Dudley told the Tampa Bay Times. “This isn’t over yet. We’ve still got work to do.”

This is the fourth consecutive year Vasilinda filed this bill to repeal what she calls “a regressive anti-consumer energy policy.”

“Citizens need to know more about this because energy utility bills are generally the second highest basic living expense paid by Floridians,” the Democrat from Tallahassee said.  “Advanced Nuclear Cost Recovery is something we must have awareness of as we go forward with our energy choices in this state because energy choices impact the personal finances of consumers, our economy, our environment, and our national security.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.