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PSC agrees to charge Duke Energy customers $108 million for shelved nuke plants

Duke Energy customers (formerly Progress Energy of Florida) spent $1 billion but never got an atom of energy from the Levy County nuclear power plant, nonetheless the Florida Public Service Commission agreed to let the company collect another $108 million a year through 2017 for the now shuttered Crystal River reactor and the canceled Levy County project.  

The decision by the PSC will add 89 cents a month for 1,000 kilowatts of energy to current bills for customers. The PSC also agreed to Duke Energy's request to defer approval of a proposed settlement agreement it entered into with the state Public Counsel's Office. The company agreed to end plans to build the Levy Plant and work out how to pay the $3.2 billion bill for ending that project and shuttering the Crystal River plant at a hearing next fall.

PSC Commissioner Eduardo Balbis raised doubts about the prudence of allowing the company to charge customers before providing evidence to regulators that the costs associated with the settlement are prudent and feasible.

But he and other commissioners concluded they had no other option, based on a state law that allows utilities to charge customers in advance for nuclear power plants, regardless of whether they are built or not, and a settlement agreement relating to the broken Crystal River plant. 

George Cavros, attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, put the blame on both legislators and the PSC for the failed projects. Consumers "paid a whole of money for a whole lot of notning,'' he said. "We believe that was facilitated by law and, quite frankly, also by you by approving certain costs for recovery for a project that was increasingly speculative."

In 2006, the Florida Legislature allowed utilities to collect money from customers in advance to help build nuclear plants. They argued that the law was necessary to encourage low-emission energy production and without it utilities wouldn't invest in nuclear power.

From the start, critics warned that the law failed consumers, offering few safeguards and guarantees that the money collected would lead to construction of plants, instead of profits for consumers. After trying and failing to repeal or modify the law for years, critics succeeded in persuading the Legislature this year to limit what companies can collect from customers -- even forcing refunds if the plants are not built.

After its ruling on Duke Energy, the PSC began hearing evidence from Florida Power & Light, which is asking to charge customers for two new reactors at its Turkey Point plant so they can save customers an estimated $78 billion of fuel costs and reduce carbon emissions.

Attorneys representing the public at the hearing say they should not be allowed to continue charging customers because the costs -- which have soared from early projections of $750 million to $2.2 billion -- are no longer reasonable and the plant is no longer feasible.

Stay tuned.