State News
6:17 pm
Wed October 16, 2013

Consumer Advocates Threaten Class-Action Suit If PSC Approves Duke Energy Settlement

A settlement agreement that puts most of the cost of failed nuclear power plants on Florida customers has the support of utility company Duke Energy Florida, business groups and a Legislature-appointed customer representative. On Wednesday, the settlement parties asked the state utility regulating board to approve the agreement. But several consumer advocates urged the commission to delay a decision and gather more input from affected rate payers.

Wednesday’s hearing is the latest in the years-long fallout over a shuttered Citrus County nuclear power plant and a planned—but never built—plant in Levy County, both of which customers continue to pay for. Duke Energy Florida reached the new agreement with the Florida Retail Federation and others, including state-appointed consumer advocate J.R. Kelly.

Deputy public counsel Charles Rehwinkel testified: “Mr. Kelly signed this agreement on behalf of the customers not because he is convinced that the outcome fully vindicates deeply held views contained in litigation positions contained in this docket and not because he believes the outcome is ideal.”

He says the new agreement contains more than $2.25 billion in money Duke customers won’t have to pay or will get back, including an additional $300 million than wasn’t included in a 2012 agreement.

Florida Industrial Power Users Group lawyer Jon Moyle says the new pact is a less than ideal end to a terrible situation.

“It kind of feels like a tie football game. You know, nobody walked away happy from this. The rate payers are paying for things that will not be operational, for power plants that will not be operational. That’s not a particularly good fact,” Moyle said.

Florida Retail Federation attorney Sheff Wright says, though, the agreement gives out a fair amount of pain to everyone involved.

“To the best of my knowledge, this settlement imposes more pain on Duke shareholders than has ever been imposed on a utility that has suffered any sort of major loss in Florida regulatory history and perhaps anywhere in the U.S.,” he said.

Duke and the other parties also said continuing with a lawsuit in the complex case might take several more years.

But Alice Vickers with the Florida Consumer Action Network said, “What I can tell is a huge collective sigh of relief that this settlement has been reached because it’s going to be a lot of work to litigate this issue. But that’s not a reason to settle.”

Members of the Florida Public Interest Research Group also spoke, threatening a class-action lawsuit against the utility and urging the commission to delay a decision on the agreement.

The hearing is scheduled to continue on Thursday afternoon.