Progress Energy, the electric utility in Pinellas County and much of North and Central Florida, has filed its nuclear cost recovery charges with the state Public Service Commission to assist in continuing work on nuclear reactors which may never be built, or ever return to service at the Levy and Crystal River sites.
This doesn’t mean that the company is shaking in its finding that the project is necessary one bit; Progress Energy CEO Vincent Dolan said it was “a key component of Progress Energy’s balanced solution strategy to meet customers’ future energy needs with efficient carbon-free electricity.”
Progress Energy’s charge if granted in full will have a tremendous impact on residential homeowners, who would be expected to pay an extra fee of $5.09 on a 1,000-kilowatt-hour residential bill beginning next year, compared to the extra $2.86 in 2012.
Crystal River has been off line since September 2009, when a refueling and power up-rate began. During the upgrade, workers discovered gaps and flaws in the concrete containment dome, which was opened to install new steam generators, during the operation, the 42-inch-thick concrete containment building also cracked.
The reactor was originally expected to restart in April 2011 but Progress said last summer updated reports which showed the unit would not restart until at least 2014. The company has estimated the cost of repairing the containment structure at between $900 million and $1.3 billion, as it continues to deny the affected structure is any less safe .
The details of the Levy nuclear project has changed dramatically from the initially positive estimate of having both reactors operational between 2016 and 2017, which was later reevaluated to enter service in 2021 at an estimated cost of $17 billion to $22 billion..
In its PSC filing, Progress is also pushing back its estimated in-service date for the first Levy County unit to 2024, the second unit is tentatively schedule to also join in-service in 2015 or 2016.
The utility also increase the total estimates from the 2006 estimate which said that the Levy project would only cost $4 billion to $6 billion with swift start-up in 2016.
The cost immediately increased in 2007 to $10 billion and subsequently in 2008 to $17 billion.
In 2011 it reached $22.4 billion with start-up in 2021, but the latest filing also brought an announcement that will raise the latest estimates of the final bill to a range of at least 19 to 24 billion dollars.
Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which opposes the Levy project and pushes for alternative energy, said someone needs to put an end to what appears to be an unbridled spending of customers’ money by Florida utilities.
“We need a hall monitor to say this doesn’t make sense,” Glickman said, “whether it’s the speaker of the (Florida) House, the president of the Senate or the governor.”
The utility blames the delays in construction on the economy, the lack of customer demand, and the extreme pressure put on the industry after their estimates that natural gas prices would skyrocket.
Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer who testifies before state public service commissions about nuclear plants, said Progress’ plan makes “no economic sense.”
The Renewable Technology and Efficiency Act encourages the development of nuclear energy, by encouraging utilities to use a pay-as-you-go method, thereby assuring preconstruction and interest costs through a much less riskier device employed to benefit a utility proposing new nuclear construction projects, or expansion of existing nuclear plants, even if the actual project is never completed.
The question still stands, if Progress had not been enabled by Florida’s legislators to charge its customers years and years in advance on a dramatically under-scrutinized plan, would the company every have found alternative financing and moved forward without the added risk-buffer?
Georgia and South Carolina are using similar cost-recovery rules to encourage units of Southern Co and Scana Corp and partners to build new reactors in their states.
Iowa is also considering adopting such a cost-recovery policy as Utilities argue the rules make reactor construction possible and help reduce customer costs.
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