A Senate Committee Monday rejected an attempt to block utilities from collecting money from customers for proposed nuclear power plants that may never be built. James Call reports the move to repeal a 2006 law known as advanced nuclear cost recovery was made by New Port Richey Senator Mike Fasano who says the practice is unfair to consumers.
Fasano says Florida and the economy are at far different places than they were in 2006 when lawmakers implemented an advanced cost recovery or as the industry calls it, a pay-as-you-go plan. Since then, says Fasano, Floridians have paid more than $500 million to companies like Progress Energy to build nuclear power plants and have seen nothing. Fasano wants to end the practice. He calls it a tax on consumers, a bailout plan for utilities and a scheme that is unfair to his constituents.
“The bottom line is that the legislature is allowing a private company that trades on the New York stock exchange to tax, to literally tax, customers in their service area so that they can build a nuclear power plant. The problem I have is forcing a customer to put up billions of dollars ahead of time for a plant that we may never see built. And the customer will never see those dollars they put out they will never be refunded those dollars.”
Fasano had filed a bill to repeal advanced cost recovery but he has been unable to get it heard in committee. That is why he tried to amend his proposal to an energy bill based on recommendations from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Orlando Senator Andy Gardner is chair of the energy and utilities committee. He is sponsoring the energy bill and he supports advanced cost recovery. He says it was implemented to facilitate utilities’ efforts to diversify energy sources used to produce electricity.
“We as a state, in my opinion, made the decision to say to the PSC, diversify and move into nuclear power. Certain companies are pursuing nuclear power. We gave them the ability to do what they are doing right now. If you take that ability there are those of us who believe, number one, when they eventually do the nuclear power plant the cost will be higher to the rate payer than what they are doing now which is paying it over time.”
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy filed an appeal in December with the Florida Supreme Court challenging the constitutionally of the early cost recovery law. It says the Public Service Commission is allowing companies to tax Florida families billions of dollars on a weak assumption that utilities will build nuclear reactors sometime in the next decade. Susan Glickman is the group’s lobbyist and spoke on behalf of the Fasano amendment.
“We need to get rid of this unfair practice that privatizes the profits and socialize the risk. That is what you have done. You have taken the risk off the back of the utilities of these Fortune 500 companies and you are putting it on the rate payers who can ill afford it at this time.”
No utility representative spoke during the committee meeting. In an e-mail, a Progress energy Representative wrote the utility is focused on obtaining a Combined Operating License for a Levy County plant. It expects to receive it in 2013 at which time the project will be reassessed. There was no response to Fasano questions about why no one showed up at the committee meeting to answer Fasano’s questions.
“It is not that they are not in the Capitol today. It is that they are just not in this committee room. They are out there somewhere, and I can assure you they were around the Capitol this morning lobbying against my amendment. They did not have the courage or the guts or the courtesy to show up in committee and answer questions. And the simple question that needs to be answer is when will the nuclear power plants that you are charging people billions of dollar for when will they be built? The bottom line is never going to be built. Progress energy has no intention of building them now and it is clear because Progress energy is asking the federal government to cancel the contract with the contractor to build those plants.”
Fasano a former Senate President Pro Tempore and House Majority leader is finding himself increasingly at odds with leadership. His maneuvers have delayed a prison privatization plan supported by the Senate President. Monday, Fasano wanted a roll call vote on his amendment. He wanted to put Senators on record concerning advanced cost recovery. He got a voice vote instead.
“All in favor of the amendment say aye… All opposed…The amendment dies.”
Ironically, there was little discussion of the overall bill itself. The committee approved the energy proposal sponsored by Gardner. It would reinstate $16 million in tax credits for renewable energy sources, direct the Agricultural Department do an inventory of bio mass resources available and evaluate energy efficiency of state buildings. Supporters call the proposal modest. Gardner says energy bills have failed the past three years because they tried to do too much; they were too heavy to pass. He characterized his proposal as a step in the right direction.
“Is it lighter than what some would like? Absolutely, absolutely. but we got to start somewhere and I think the Agriculture commissioner Putnam has done a wonderful job of bringing something forward and I’m gonna do my best to keep it going in the right track.”
The proposal has two more committee stops before reaching the floor. The House is working a similar proposal.