Collecting nuclear costs from customers in advance would become more difficult for Florida Power & Light Co. and other utilities under a bill the Florida Senate unanimously approved Friday.
A 2006 “early cost recovery” law aimed at encouraging more nuclear power has allowed FPL to upgrade already-existing nuclear plants in Miami-Dade and St. Lucie counties and also funded licensing applications for two new proposed reactors.
The Florida House is expected to vote on a similar bill next week, said George Cavros, a Fort Lauderdale-based Florida energy policy attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
The legislation calls for more oversight by the Florida Public Service Commission. A key provision would require the utility to notify the commission by July 1 whether it intends to complete a project for which it is seeking to recover costs.
FPL spokesman Erik Hofmeyer said, “We remain opposed to any changes in the law.”
FPL recently completed a $3 billion, five-year upgrade of its four existing reactors, which added 500 new megawatts of emissions-free energy, Hofmeyer said.
FPL has not said for sure that it will build two new proposed reactors for the Turkey Point plant near Miami, but it is continuing to pursue licensing approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Steady progress is being made, Hofmeyer said. The reactors are projected to cost as much as $18 billion and save customers $78 billion in fossil fuels over 40 years.
Susan Glickman, a consultant for SACE said the Senate bill offers more procedural protections for consumers, but the devil is in the details.
“Its impact is highly dependent on a rigorous review by the Florida Public Service Commission,” Glickman said. “If the Commission does its job, it will find that continued spending on risky new nuclear reactors is neither feasible nor reasonable. While it’s a step in the right direction, the bill does not address the fundamental problem in the utility planning process — that the incentive is for power companies to build the most expensive power plants because that’s how they make money for their shareholders, to the detriment of ratepayers.”
The bill creates an “intent to build” standard that would require the utility to prove it intends to complete the project.
SACE has challenged the constitutionality of the 2006 law before the Florida Supreme court, and a decision is pending.
Cavros said that while the current PSC has never found the plants not to be feasible or unreasonable, it is not clear how a future commission might view the highly subjective criteria. The new bill still depends on the PSC to make the decision.
For non-nuclear projects, utilities cannot bill customers for costs until the plants begin operating.