Progress Energy seeks rate hike for nuclear projects


Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 5:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 5:37 p.m.

Progress Energy is petitioning Florida utility regulators for a rate increase to raise $145 million for nuclear power plant projects.

Critics of the increase say the money is being fleeced from customers and spent on a broken Crystal River facility that may never be repaired and a proposed Levy County plant that will never be built.

Utility customers could see a nearly $5 hike in their bills if the Florida Public Service Commission approves the request after holding public hearings on the issue beginning Monday. The PSC is expected to render a decision in November.

The utility has 1.6 million customers throughout Florida, some of whom are in North Central Florida.

Florida’s Nuclear Cost Recovery law allows utilities to ask the PSC for approval to charge customers for nuclear plant improvements and new plants before they are built. If the plant is never built, customers are out the money.

Of the $145 million request, $40 million is projected to pay for improvements to the Crystal River plant. The remainder would go toward its proposed Levy County plant.

Company spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said some of that $40 million would pay for improvements to the plant that have already been made. The improvements increased its output ability by 16 megawatts, although the plant is currently offline.

Additional improvements planned for the future would produce an another 164 megawatts of power. Before the plant broke in 2009, it was able to produce 860 megawatts of power.

If the PSC approves the increases, a customer using an average of 1,000 kilowatt hours will pay an additional $4.73 per month, Grant said.

But critics complain that the Crystal River improvements don’t make economic sense. The plant’s containment building wall cracked three times since 2009 while workers were replacing generators inside the structure. It has remained offline ever since. The utility has not decided whether to repair the plant again or mothball it.

Referring to the facility as the “Humpty Dumpty” plant, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Executive Director Steve Smith said the plant likely won’t ever be repaired, but as long as the money comes from customers and not the company’s own profits, it will take the free money.

Smith also thinks collecting money for the proposed Levy County plant is a waste.

He said the falling price of natural gas, the decline in energy demand and the rising cost of building the $24 billion nuclear plant likely means it will not be constructed.

Contact Fred Hiers at 867-4157 or fred.hiers@starbanner.com.

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