The Florida Supreme Court is reviewing a current law that allows utilities to charge customers in advance for the construction of nuclear power plants.
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy filed an appeal against the law, which was passed in 2006 to encourage the expansion of nuclear energy.
Customers usually do not have to pay for power plants’ expenses until the plant goes into service, but Florida’s Energy Act has an exception for nuclear reactors and allows for a nuclear cost recovery fee.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is deciding whether to grant a license to Progress Energy, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, to build a nuclear power plant with two reactors in Levy County. Executives with Duke Energy have indicated the total projected cost for the new reactors could be as high as $24 billion.
Although construction for the plant has not begun, Levy County resident Emily Casey said she’s already seen the effects on her utility bill.
“We’re paying for something that may not really occur,” she said. There’s no guarantee or anything put into place that would return the money back if they did not get built.”
Republican State Senator Mike Fasano, who voted for the legislation, said the need for the power plant no longer exists. He said the Public Service Commission should put an end to the fee if there is no confirmation that Progress Energy is going to build the nuclear power plant.
Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said Levy County provides the amount of land and water source needed to build the power plant. She said the nuclear cost recovery fee will help lower the cost of the plant over time.
“By having the cost recovery legislation in place, that helps lower the overall cost of the plant for our customers sort of like if you pay your credit card every month as opposed to making the minimum payment due and allowing the interest to rack up over time,” she said.
Nancy Argenziano, a former Public Service Commissioner who’s running for State House District 34 as an independent, said she was the only one to vote no on the nuclear cost recovery fee. She said she thinks the fee is wrong and needs to be addressed properly by committees.
“Sometimes there’s a reason to pay upfront if it spreads the cost out over the years, but this was done totally wrong from the beginning,” she said. “I believe it was industry written. I don’t believe the PSC wrote it. I don’t believe the legislative staff wrote it.”
Levy County Commissioner Ryan Bell said the power plant could add up to 6,000 jobs and could bring in 40 percent more tax dollars for Levy County.
“I have observed Progress Energy’s partnership with Citrus County through the duration of my life, and it seems to be a very positive impact for Citrus County,” he said. “I do think that Levy County’s geography and need for professional careers could be a great fit with Progress Energy, and I think it’s definitely something that is needed for our local economy to survive.”
The Army Corps of Engineers recently gave a report detailing how the environment would not suffer from the plant construction in Levy County. However, Mary Olson the Southeast Coordinator for Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a not-for-profit environmental advocacy group, said the impact of building two reactors in Levy County would have a large impact on the environment, including potentially drying out the county’s springs.
Olson said Progress Energy may be granted a license in 2014 at the earliest. The Ecology Party and Nuclear Information Resource Service will challenge Progress Energy in the Levy County courthouse on Oct. 31. The case will be heard by three judges of the Atomic Safety Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Meanwhile, Progress Energy’s troubles continue over the shutdown of a nearby nuclear facility in Citrus County, where the cost of repairs there has reached nearly $1.5 billion.
Emily Miller edited this story online.