Nuclear power seems inevitable to Florida’s energy future

Miami HeraldAugust 9, 2011 

TALLAHASSEE -- Every time you pay your energy bill, a portion of it goes to build a nuclear power plant that won’t produce power for at least another decade and, if opponents have any say, never will.

The state Legislature, the governor and the head of the state’s utility board all say that Florida’s future will include new nuclear facilities, setting aside concerns about the meltdown of the Fukushima reactor in Japan, reports of imperfect new reactor designs and rising construction costs.

In the next two weeks, the Florida Public Service Commission must decide in public hearings how much the state’s two largest utilities — Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida — will charge customers in 2012 for nuclear plants of tomorrow. It will be the fourth year the utilities will be allowed to collect money for nuclear costs. Together, they are asking customers for $337 million next year.

FPL wants $2.09 a month from each customer using an average of 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. Progress Energy wants more than twice that — $4.80 per month for 1,000 kilowatt hours, about a 20-cent decrease from what customers are currently paying for nuclear projects.

The utility companies say that while it takes a long time to build a nuclear plant, the net savings to customers will be in the billions because the cost of nuclear fuel will be much lower. They also note that the construction process creates jobs.

But conservation groups, large commercial power users and lawyers representing consumers say it’s time for regulators to hit the brakes and scale back how much the electric utilities are allowed to charge for uncertain projects. They argue that soaring costs, delayed timelines and safety concerns make it less likely that the power plants will be as cost-effective as projected.

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