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Senate amends nuclear fee bill

The Florida Senate on Thursday made minor changes to its plan to rework the unpopular nuclear fee on customer utility bills to tighten the oversight of the state’s utility regulators and make other changes with an amendment by Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz.

SB 1472 rewrites the nuclear cost recovery act enacted in 2006 that allows electric companies to impose pre-construction costs for nuclear projects. The amendment, added to the bill with no discussion, will give the Public Service Commission more discretion when reviewing the company’s justification for continuing to collect the nuclear fees from customers. It also requires that if Progress Energy of Florida Power & Light fails to show that it has committed enough money to a new plant, or if its intent is unrealistic, it can’t continue to collect the money.

The Senate amendment also prohibits Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light from collecting the nuclear fees after July 1 unless they have shown proof of their intent to develop the plant. The PSC has the power to determine how to interpret intent.

Since 2006, Progress Energy has charged customers more than $1 billion to expand the now-crippled Crystal River nuclear power plant and to start developing a new nuclear power plant in Levy County. The company terminated the Crystal River project but has kept $150 million of the money in profits from all its projects.

Florida Power & Light collected $530 million from the nuclear fee and used the money to finance expansions to its existing power plants at Turkey Point and in St. Lucie County. It has also proposed building two new reactors at Turkey Point but has not obtained a permit to do it.

Voter discontent with St. Petersburg-based Progress Energy’s troubled power plant has prompted four Tampa-area senators to take the more aggressive approach to revamping the law, although they have stopped short of repealing the proposal.