By Ivan Penn
In a move that flabbergasts its critics, Progress Energy Florida plans to spend more than $200 million of its customers’ money to upgrade the Crystal River nuclear power plant.
This is the same plant that:
• Broke three years ago during another upgrade project.
• Has not produced a kilowatt of power since.
• Would cost at least $3 billion to repair including related power expenses.
• May never be restarted.
Nevertheless, Progress has budgeted millions to increase the plant’s potential power output. To pay for it, customers’ power bills will increase an estimated $51.5 million this year, $110.2 million next year and $64.5 million in 2014.
And that’s not all.
Progress plans to spend hundreds of millions more on the plant for equipment and safety upgrades through 2014. The utility won’t be able to charge customers for those expenditures at least until after 2017 because of an agreement with state regulators.
Critics equate it to replacing the drivetrain on an aging, broken-down car that is more likely headed to the junkyard than back onto the street.
“The public should be asking, ‘Where is the hall monitor that is watching out for their best interest?’ ” said Susan Glickman, a lobbyist for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is challenging nuclear spending in Florida before the state Supreme Court.
“The proper venues are not addressing the problem,” Glickman said of Florida regulators and lawmakers. “And consumers continue to foot the bill for something from which they don’t see any power.”
Jim Warren, executive director of the environmental watchdog group NC WARN, is challenging the utility’s spending plans on Crystal River and the rest of Progress Energy’s nuclear fleet. Warren said the planned nuclear spending should have been clearly reported prior to Progress’ July 2 merger with Duke Energy.
“How do they plan to invest all this in a plant that’s shut down?” Warren asked.
Tom Williams, a Duke Energy spokesman, said the budget items were part of Progress’ routine long-range planning.
“The nuclear plant, even one that is safely (idle), has a budget of capital and operating and maintenance (O&M) expenses,” Williams said. “The budgets are established years in advance and change based on new information, evolving work and many other factors.”