Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Opponents of Florida's nuclear cost recovery plan call it an unconstitutional tax as it goes to Florida Supreme Court

Posted By on Wed, Oct 3, 2012 at 1:41 PM

Oral arguments are scheduled for this Thursday morning at the Florida Supreme Court in the legal challenge of the "nuclear cost recovery" payment plan for proposed new reactors, which has angered consumer advocate groups since the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Energy Act in 2006.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is challenging the constitutionality of the controversial pre-payment statute, which allows Florida Power & Light (FPL) and Progress Energy Florida — known as Duke after its recent merger — to collect millions of dollars in advance from Florida consumers' utility bills to help create nuclear reactors that may never be built.

During a conference call Wednesday morning, legislators and other officials once again denounced the program.

New Port Richey Sen. Mike Fasano voted for the 2006 bill, but has made mea culpas about it since. He said what's most concerning is that executives at FPL and Progress never give a definite answer about whether their proposed nuclear power plants will be built.

"It's not even a maybe, they just ignore the question," he said.

Tallahassee House Democrat Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda said the cost-recovery plan always appeared to be a hidden tax, a tax that controls Floridians' energy choices and eliminates competition by maintaining the status quo.

Sen. Fasano fears that if the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's challenge fails at the high court, the opposition to nuclear cost recovery will have no other place to go. He said it would have to be done at the legislative level, but, "there's very little movement in Tallahassee by our governor or legislators" to do anything at the moment.

He said he received positive feedback from the state's future leaders (presumably meaning incoming Senate President Don Gaetz and incoming Speaker of the House Will Weatherford), but they won't act until after the courts make a decision.

"Someone has to say enough is enough. Utility companies can't continue to charge for a tax," Fasano added.

Charles Milsted, associate state director of AARP Florida, said the law requires older and low-income energy consumers to make "wrenching choices" that could severely affect their health as they have to pay the recovered costs every month on a limited budget. He said that seniors pay more than 20 percent of their income on utilities, and nuclear power's time as a major energy source in this country is fading (according to the EPA, the U.S. gets approximately 20 percent of its energy from nuclear plants).

Lauderdale-By-The-Sea Mayor Roseann Minnet is the chair of the Broward League of Cities Sustainability Committee, which in June passed a resolution opposing the cost recovery mechanism. She said their opposition is not based on nuclear power per se, which she said the power companies say is the real source of resistance. She said it's about limiting future energy solutions in the state.

"The public is understandably confused about nuclear power. Costs have been skyrocketing. If the substantial amount of costs are paid by taxpayers, where is the incentive for investigating alternative sources of energy?" Minnet added, saying many multi-national companies have been abandoning the nuclear (power) option since 2007 with their escalating costs.

Progress Energy/Duke has proposed two new reactors in Levy County, with an estimated cost of more than $24 billion, and FPL has proposed two additional reactors at its existing Turkey Point nuclear plant near Miami with an estimated cost approaching $20 billion. Both proposals are more than a decade from completion, if they are ever built.

And if they aren't built, ratepayers would not receive any refunds.

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