Four lawmakers join lawuit over nuclear cost recovery program

Apr 13, 2012

Four lawmakers have joined a lawsuit against the Florida’s nuclear cost recovery program. Regan McCarthy reports the bi-partisan group says the state’s law let’s utilities charge customers for nuclear power plants that might never get built.

Senators Mike Fasano and Charlie Dean, both Republicans, and Representatives Mark Pafford and Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, both Democrats, say a law that lets utilities charge customers for nuclear plants before construction is unclear and therefore unconstitutional. Fasano says if a utility wants to build a nuclear plant it should be paid for by money from the company’s stock holders, not its customers.

“Don’t get it from customers that many of them, probably most of them will never see the benefits of nuclear power plants built by progress energy because they never will be built.”

Advance cost recovery opponents say the reason utilities are depending on customers is because they can’t get funding elsewhere. And now the estimated cost, for plants like one Progress Energy Florida says it’s planning to build in Levy County, the keeps increasing. Meanwhile the date for the completion of the project keeps getting pushed back. That leaves some like Fasano to think the plants might never actually be built.

“It is my belief that once Progress Energy has refunded itself  the money that they have put out, which will be over a billion dollars, once they have gotten those dollars back from the customers, as far as the cost recovery is concerned, they will then announce that they have no intention of building a nuclear power plan.”

If they are eventually built, Fasano says, it’s likely that some of the people paying for the plants now, won’t be around to reap the benefits of projected lower energy costs. But Progress officials maintain the company is moving forward with plans and is working to get the proper licenses needed to start construction on a nuclear plant. 

Fasano actually voted for the nuclear cost recovery  measure back in 2006. The proposal was part of a larger energy bill. And now Fasano says he’s regrets that vote. Senator Charlie Dean says he does too. Saying he didn’t even realize the measure was part of the larger legislation.

“It was a huge energy package, and it was sold to us as this is an all encompassing energy package. And I’m not saying there weren’t a lot of good issues in the bill. But in the fine print, not one time did anyone ever, in my recollection, have any discussion about advanced recovery assessment charges against customers.”

Some say it should be up the Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulators, to stop letting utilities collect money for the plants when the expected cost goes up. But the current law says utilities are allowed to collect the money as long as they keep insisting they’re going to build a nuclear plant. And commission members say, in a way, that leaves them with their hands tied. Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda says that’s one of the main points the lawsuit is contesting. She says the state statute gives “an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power” to the public service commission.

“That statute that we’re talking about, the same statute, mandates that there is a promotion of nuclear power. But then there is no limit on that promotion.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda says at a minimum there should be limits and guidelines for the commission to use when allowing utilities to collect money for nuclear plants. But what she’d really like is to see an end to nuclear cost recovery. She and Senator Fasano both filed legislation this past session to repeal the law, but it got little traction. Now Rehwinkel Vasalinda says she’s hoping the courts can do it.

“Frankly, the price of the power plants have gone up and up and up; where at one point it was $6 billion dollars, now its $22 billion. There’s nothing in the statute that says stop. There’s nothing in the statute that says when this thing can be built. We just think it’s a ridiculous statute in how it’s been implemented.”

Progress officials have said without the Nuclear Cost recovery program the company would not be able to go ahead with plans to build a nuclear power plant in the state, meaning a ruling in the lawmakers’ favor could mean the end of the Levy County nuclear plant.