News from Tallahassee for 7/23/14

Watchdog report says power companies wield too much influence in Florida Legislature posted on 3/31/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — To understand the influence of Florida's largest electric companies in Tallahassee, look no further than your monthly bill.

You won't see a line item for the "nuclear cost recovery fee" that Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light collect each month for future construction of new nuclear power plants. That's because legislators last year voted down an amendment that would have required them to disclose the fee to customers, something they knew the two companies didn't want to do.

Lawmakers allowed utilities to collect the fee in 2006, and when the companies tamped down their plans to build new facilities and used the money for other needs, such as upgrading existing nuclear plants, legislators kept the fee in place despite complaints from consumer advocates.

The legislative journey of the nuclear cost recovery fee is but one example of how Florida's power companies control the legislative agenda in Tallahassee, according to a new report by Integrity Florida, a nonprofit Tallahassee research and watchdog group. They say millions of dollars in campaign contributions and an army of lobbyists help keep corporate interests ahead of the public interest, and are calling on lawmakers to make the power companies more transparent and more accountable.

"Our state's monopoly power corporations have demonstrated how politically influential investments can be profitable,'' said Dan Krassner, president of Integrity Florida and one of the authors of the report Power Play: Political Influence of Florida's Top Energy Corporations. "The volume of spending on campaigns and lobbying give this industry an outsized influence."

The report was paid for with a grant from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), an advocacy group that wants Florida to adopt more electricity options. An advance copy of the report, to be released today, was made available to the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.

The utilities vigorously reject the allegations, calling SACE an "anti-utility organization."

» Read more

Natural-gas breakthrough could lead to cheaper fuel posted on 3/14/14

by Marcia Heroux Pounds | Sun Sentinel

A discovery in South Florida could lead to wider use of clean-burning fuels.

Scientist Roy Periana, who heads the Scripps Energy Materials Center in Jupiter, has devised a more efficient method of converting the major components of natural gas into useable fuels. The discovery, announced Thursday, could open the door to cheaper, more abundant fuel with lower emissions, Scripps said.

"This is considered one of the Holy Grails of chemistry," said Periana, who said he has worked on the problem since the early 1990s. "If we can learn how to control the chemistry, we can have huge impact. The United States could move away completely from oil and build an economy on natural gas."

The research will be published Friday by the journal Science.

Jim Robo, chairman and chief executive of NextEra Energy, parent company of Florida Power & Light Co., said the discovery is exciting.

» Read more

Group calls on Legislature to review nuclear cost recovery law amid focus on FPL's St. Lucie plant posted on 2/25/14

by Bruce Ritchie | Florida Current

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is calling on the Legislature to review again its nuclear cost recovery law in light of a Tampa Bay Times report that Florida Power & Light Co.'s St. Lucie nuclear plant is in trouble.

FPL and Duke Energy Florida have charged customers more than $1.4 billion for nuclear projects under a 2006 law that allows utilities to charge customers for nuclear power projects regardless of whether they are ever built.

The Legislature in 2013 revised the law after Duke announced it would close its Crystal River nuclear plant following botched repairs during a plant upgrade. The revised law denies cost recovery for projects after 20 years.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that nuclear reactor cooling tubes at the St. Lucie plant are showing wear after an upgrade that allowed the utility to boost power output at the plant. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman said Monday there is no steam generator or tube integrity safety concerns at the plant.

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Under proposed law, utilities could not charge for nuclear plants before they're built posted on 1/22/14

by News Service of Florida

A House Democrat on Tuesday filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent utilities from charging customers for new power plants until the facilities start operating.

The proposal (HJR 693) by Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, comes after Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida have used a controversial 2006 law to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from customers for nuclear projects.

The law has been controversial, at least in part, because there is no guarantee when - if ever - the new plants will start operating. Duke, for example, shelved plans to build two nuclear reactors in Levy County after collecting money for the project.

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Duke set to profit again off Crystal River nuclear plant fiasco posted on 1/9/14

by Ivan Penn | Tampa Bay Times

Duke Energy's botched upgrade project that led to the permanent closure of the Crystal River nuclear plant is the gift that keeps on giving — to its shareholders.

For utility customers, it has become an ever-bigger lump of coal.

The latest: Duke gets to pocket roughly 7 percent of the $100 million its customers will pay to stabilize the reactor's broken concrete containment building.

Duke's latest windfall comes on top of the $100 million the utility gets to keep from the original ill-fated project to replace old steam generators and increase the nuclear plant's electricity production.

As that project began, utility workers damaged the containment building so severely it would cost too much to repair. Duke then decided to permanently close what critics now call the ''Humpty Dumpty'' plant, which it had hoped would last another 20 years.

While Duke profits from its blunders, customers will be forced to pay upward of $2 billion for the worthless upgrades, repairs, replacement power and company profits related to the Crystal River plant.

None of that makes sense to one of those customers, state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg.

"In what universe, in what reality do you make egregious mistakes — some would say rising to criminal negligence — and still make a profit?" Dudley asked.

"You have a multibillion dollar asset destroyed and we're on the hook," Dudley said. "We have an open wallet, an open pocketbook and it continues to be filched by Duke Energy."

That's not all. Duke's profits mount while:

• Almost 600 plant workers will eventually lose their jobs.

• Citrus County, home to Crystal River, suffers the loss of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, threatening county and school budgets because the nuclear plant dropped in value when it became little more than a giant paperweight.

• Ratepayers gear up to pay for a new 1,600 megawatt natural gas plant Duke wants to build to replace the nuclear plant. The price tag for that may be $1.5 billion or so.

And yes, the utility gets to make money on that project too.

» Read more

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