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Nuclear cost recovery fee lives on

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A monthly fee for nuclear power projects continues to appear on Duke Energy electric bills, , even though the investor-owned utility has no nuclear generating units in operation and no plans to build any.

“Unfortunately, it was status quo in Tallahassee when it came to public utilities matters,” state Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, commented about the 2014 session of the Florida Legislature.

Legg and other lawmakers have been trying to rewrite the 2006 law that lets utilities charge consumers a fee to help get nuclear power plants designed and built long before the plants start generating electricity.

Last year Duke Energy pulled the plug on the nuclear power plantProgress Energy had planned to build in Levy County. Duke Energy acquired Progress Energy in 2012.

In February 2013 Duke Energy decided to shuttered the two Crystal River nuclear power units, which had been closed since a 2009 refueling accident.

However, customers were left in the dark about possible refunds for the money already generated by the fee. Most recently it has been about $5 a month. Utilities can still collect the revenue until lawmakers act to end the fee or phase it out.

Duke Energy is still charging the nuclear fee, said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman at the utility’s St. Petersburg regional office. Nuclear-fueled power plants are extremely expensive to build, he noted.

That’s why legislators voted eight years ago to allowed utilities around the state to charge a monthly fee for preconstruction expenses. Lawmakers were trying to encourage nuclear power as an alternative to oil- and natural gas-powered electricity generation.

Today, many consumers don’t know how much the nuclear fee is costing them, Legg said in an email.

“People just see their bill and they pay it,” he wrote. “But if they were given even a simple breakdown of the fees, more people would be surprised, maybe alarmed, and they might start pressing for answers.”

State lawmakers had “some moderate success” in placing more limits on the nuclear cost recovery fee in 2013, Legg recalled.

“Very little movement” was seen on any 2014 proposals regarding utilities, Legg acknowledged.

Legg also introduced Senate Bill 964 this year. It would have changed the makeup of the utility-regulating Florida Public Service Commission.

The proposal called for “essentially imposing term limits and establishing representative districts for PSC board members, all in an effort to have equitable representation and increase accountability to the public,” Legg said.

The PSC bill also got sidelined during the 2014 legislative, but Legg hopes to reintroduce it next year.

corth@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1068

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