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PSC Approves Duke Nuclear Agreement; Customers Vow To Fight

Environmental Protection Agency

Florida’s utility company regulating board, the Public Service Commission, Thursday approved a new settlement agreement that leaves Duke Energy customers paying for retired or scrapped nuclear power plants for years to come. As Jessica Palombo reports, Duke rate payers who testified against the agreement say they’ll continue their fight—potentially in court.

The agreement allows Duke to retire its Crystal River nuclear power plant and scrap plans for another plant in Levy County—both of which customers have paid billions of dollars for already and will continue to pay for with fees on their monthly bills.

“I think it’s literally a crime and that they are stealing from consumers," says Dalyn Houser with the Florida Public Interest Research Group. She says she’s shocked by the commission’s approval.

“We’ve had numerous rallies within the past week where hundreds of Duke rate payers have shown up to protest the agreement," she says.

Houser says her group offered to foot the bill for commissioners to travel to the Duke service area and hold public hearings before ruling.

Here's the Public Service Commission news release explaining the 4-1 approval ruling:

"In a four to one vote, Florida’s Public Service Commission (PSC) today approved a Revised and Restated Settlement Agreement (Agreement) for Duke Energy Florida, Inc. (DEF) that maintains customer base rates through 2018, terminates plans for DEF’s Levy County nuclear units 1 & 2, and promotes community growth through economic development tariffs.

“This Agreement benefits both residential and business customers and will help grow the local economy,” said PSC Chairman Ronald A. Brisé.  “I am pleased that Florida’s Public Counsel, White Springs Agriculture Chemicals, Inc., Florida Industrial Power Users Group, Florida Retail Federation, and DEF agreed on difficult issues that provide long-term stability in the public’s interest.”

Commissioner Eduardo E. Balbis, who voted against the decision, stated, “We have another viable option that is already in place.  Additionally, there are several critical unanswered questions that warrant additional review.”

While the revised Agreement supersedes DEF’s current agreement, approved last year, customer refunds contained in the 2012 agreement remain, including $129 million this year, $139 million in 2014, $50 million in 2015, and $70 million in 2016.  Customers will also receive a total refund of $835 million from insurance proceeds for DEF’s retired Crystal River 3 (CR3) nuclear plant by the end of 2014.

When an asset (such as a plant) is retired, the company has a right, by law, to recover the remaining costs from its customers.  Under the revised Agreement, recoverable costs for CR3 will be capped at $1.4 billion, with the company’s stockholders covering the first $295 million and long repayment schedules also lowering costs to customers. DEF will continue to collect fixed amounts, with no incremental bill impact, for costs associated with its discontinued Levy plant until approximately 2017. 

Since 2010, the PSC has opened several separate dockets to continually analyze and review the company’s actions; PSC staff has reviewed hundreds of thousands of pages of filings, from DEF, its contractors, and other parties; conducted numerous, extensive depositions; requested answers to hundreds of discovery questions; and Commissioners have presided over eight hearings and status conferences, where the company and expert witnesses provided testimony and evidence. Hundreds of customers have also provided comments that are included in each docket’s file, and as part of the Commission’s transparent processes, all filings and transcripts of Commission proceedings are available to the public on the PSC’s website, www.FloridaPSC.com

Parties to the revised Agreement, filed with the Commission on August 1, include DEF, the Office of Public Counsel, White Springs Agriculture Chemicals, Inc., Florida Industrial Power Users Group, and Florida Retail Federation."