FPL wants more nuclear units; customers say prove they make sense

Aug 09, 2017
FPL wants to add two nuclear units at its existing Turkey Point plant (Getty Images)

Just weeks after this summer’s announcement that two unfinished nuclear reactors in South Carolina are being abandoned, Florida regulators are poised to once again consider Florida Power & Light’s pursuit of two new reactors.

However, hundreds of FPL customers say they want the utility to prove the reactors would be worth the costs. In an email campaign organized by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, they’re asking the commission to reject FPL’s “heavy-handed and unprecedented request” for a deferral of a required annual feasibility study for the two proposed Turkey Point reactors.

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The feasibility study is meant to answer the question of whether a project makes economic sense for customers.

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The hearing before the Florida Public Service Commission begins Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in Tallahassee, and can be viewed at Floridapsc.com

FPL, headquartered in Juno Beach, has sought the operating license for the new units from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2009. The company says it wants to continue that process for the proposed 2,200-megawatt Turkey Point 6 and 7 reactors, which could cost as much as $21.8 billion. They might never be built, or no sooner than 2031, could join two existing reactors at the plant overlooking Biscayne Bay south of Miami.

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The reactors have already cost FPL customers $282 million in pre-licensing costs. FPL has applied for a license for two AP-1000 reactors, designed by Westinghouse. Westinghouse, which filed for bankruptcy in March along with its parent company, Toshiba, was hired to construct two AP-1000 reactors at the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project in South Carolina. Two utilities there said in late July they were ending the project after spending $9 billion on the reactors less than 40 percent completed.

FPL customers have sent hundreds of identical emails to the PSC asking it to deny FPL a waiver on providing a detailed analysis of the long-term feasibility of completing the power plant. The commission’s own rules require the study to be filed each year.

“I have already paid too much for too long toward this phantom project, as have all other FPL customers,” Robert OBrien of Delray Beach wrote.

David Garrett of Wellington wrote: “It is not fair for the company to continue to heap the financial risk onto customers like me to pursue new reactors at Turkey Point, a project for which there is no builder. I understand the builder, Westinghouse, filed for bankruptcy and is out of the nuclear construction business. And apparently FPL will not commit to actually build the reactors, nor will it commit to a price tag. Further, the company can’t even show that the reactors are in the best economic interests of their customers.”

FPL spokesman Peter Robbins said that while, of course, FPL officials are aware of what happened in South Carolina, “we are not going to cancel this project.”

Robbins said it would not be appropriate or a good use of money to conduct another feasibility study until after the license is obtained. FPL plans to effectively “pause” the project before moving into the pre-construction phase. Feasibility studies cost roughly $750,000, he said.

In 2016, the PSC granted FPL’s request for a deferral of a new feasibility report, and at that time, FPL said it would file the analysis this year. Now the company wants to delay the report for at least four years. It’s asking the commission find that it is reasonable for the company to pursue the license and recover costs later from its customers.

The Office of Public Counsel, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, the Florida Retail Federation, the City of Miami and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy all oppose FPL’s requests.

FPL argues in pre-filed testimony that it is not required to provide a long-term feasibility study because it isn’t seeking to recover costs from customers for several years. OPC calls that argument “meritless,” and says that according to FPL’s testimony, over a 10-year period, customers could become liable for more than $100 million in additional licensing-related costs, including carrying costs.

Construction of two AP-1000 reactors at the existing Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia is still underway, but has experienced delays and cost overruns. Southern Nuclear, parent company of Georgia Power, has replaced Westinghouse as the primary contractor in the expansion.

The South Carolina and Georgia projects’ problems, along with other factors, call into question whether FPL’s continued pursuit of the license and related costs is realistic and practical, Public Counsel J.R. Kelly said in a filing.

Stephen Smith, executive director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the group asked FPL customers among its contacts to send emails to the PSC.

“The PSC needs to understand they are on thin ice here. They set the rules. They cannot blame this on anybody else. If they grant FPL an additional waiver on not even to having to do a feasibility study for a second year in a row … they are violating their own rules,” Smith said.

“It will be extraordinarily difficult for them, with a straight face, to write an order that gives FPL a pass on their own rules. FPL ratepayers need to have their eyes wide open,” Smith said.

While FPL is not asking for money right now, they will come back and charge customers later.

“It’s like saying you will continue to rack up charges on a credit card. At some point you will have to pay. We don’t think these reactors will ever get built,” Smith said.