Friday, August 16, 2013

The Art of Getting Paid to Build Power Plants Without Building Plants!

On August 1, Duke Energy announced that it was canceling its engineering and construction contracts for building a nuclear power complex in Florida's Levy County.  The upside is that these plants might never be built.  The downside is that Duke's ratepayers will likely be paying for them anyway. More downside is that money waisted on nuclear energy is at the expense of safe, clean, renewable energy alternatives we desperately need now.

Duke Energy Florida President Alex Glenn dispels the myth that this is the last we'll ever hear of these nuke plants.  In an Orlando Sentinel article he is quoted:  "License requirements, future energy needs, construction costs and other factors will determine whether Duke later revives the plant.  We continue to believe the Levy site is a viable option for future nuclear generation, and we want to keep that option open."  The article adds further that Duke will continue to seek a federal license and expects the NRC to award it in late 2014 or early 2015.

What makes this all worthwhile for Duke?  A Florida law called the Nuclear Cost Recovery Act gives FL's Public Service Commission the power to allow utilities to charge their customers ahead of time for preparing for and building nuclear power plants.  What's more, should the plants not be built, the utility does not have to return the money to its ratepayers!  So why should a utility bother to go to the trouble of actually building a nuclear plant, when it can get its customers to buy it for them, without building the plant, and without customers actually having an equity stake in the ghost plant!  Duke's Glenn clarified the subject with this classic double speak:  "It's an effective balance between moderating rate impacts on customers and providing clarity on recovery of investment." The question is, whose investment is being recovered by whom? Duke could recover as much as $1.47 billion in costs associated with its shuttered Levy County reactor in negotiations with regulators.

Duke's withdrawal raises questions about the feasibility of building nuclear power plants, and the waning enthusiasm for nuclear power amidst an economic downturn, especially with cheap frack gas coming on the scene. This draws closer attention to Florida Power & Light's plans to build two more nuclear plants at its Turkey Point site in South Miami-Dade on Biscayne Bay. Undeterred by Duke's experience, FPL continues to seek approval for its plants at the State and Federal level. There's little at risk when the early cost recovery law allows FPL to bill customers in advance for the multi billion dollar price tag.

The nuclear cost recovery law has gained notoriety, but pushback from some lawmakers has not been sufficient to repeal it. Republican state representative Mike Fasano, of New Port Richey, called the Duke deal "grand theft" in a recent Newsweek article. Fasano co-sponsored the failed legislation this year to reform the law.

The law gives cover for a modern version of the old selling the Brooklyn bridge swindle. In today's scenario there are no gullible suckers who voluntarily fork over their green in a preposterous scam, just hapless ratepayers who are extorted by a cartel of utilities and government regulators.  Adding insult to injury, there's not even a bridge!

Public energy policy has been too long in the grip of the fossil fuel and nuclear energy interests, in collusion with government regulators.  They have blatantly made a farce of any democratic pretensions we may have had.  The vast majority of citizens understand the environmental crisis the planet is facing, and understand that we cannot sacrifice our future for the sort term gains of private interests in outmoded, dangerous, costly and dirty energy technologies.  Even more egregious is that it comes at the expense of carbon-free, nuclear-free, clean, safe renewable energy technologies that even now can compete economically, are more secure from calamities of nature and man, and are ultimately more democratic.

The Green Party fully supports democratizing our energy policy, and creating a more secure, clean, safe and renewable energy paradigm for the future.  Florida is the Sunshine State. It could be leading the world in distributed rooftop solar, saving the planet and creating new green jobs! The technology is here, now!

Where to start? The Green Party demands that Florida's  Nuclear Cost Recovery Act be repealed, and that the utility industry be required to rebate to ratepayers any amounts collected for services not rendered!


Steve Showen

Co-Chair Green Party of Florida

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