Crippled Fla. nuke plant decision being delayed

Associated Press Modified: October 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm •  Published: October 30, 2012

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A lawyer for Progress Energy Florida said Tuesday that a decision on whether to repair or shut down a crippled nuclear power plant is being delayed, which could trigger a $100 million customer refund.

A prior settlement between Progress Energy and consumer advocates calls for a refund if repairs don't begin at the Crystal River plant by the end of the year. The reactor has been down since late 2009 when its concrete containment building cracked during a maintenance and upgrade project.

Officials say fixing the plant would likely take several years with cost estimates ranging from $1.5 billion to $3.5 billion.

"It's technically possible that construction could commence (before the end of the year), but it's unlikely," Progress Energy lawyer John Burnett said during a status conference with a state regulator.

Burnett told Public Service Commissioner Eduardo Balbis, prehearing officer for the five-member regulatory commission, that utility officials now expect to decide by next summer whether to go ahead with repairs or shutter the plant.

If a decision is made to fix it, the company plans to ask the commission to let it pass on to customers any costs not covered by still-unresolved insurance claims for repair and replacement energy costs.

If the facility is permanently closed, Progress Energy could replace it with a new plant, probably burning natural gas.

St. Petersburg-based Progress Energy is Florida's second-largest power company, serving more than 1.6 million homes, businesses and other customers in central and north Florida. The Crystal River plant normally produced about 860 megawatts, enough to power 860,000 homes. Progress Energy has had to buy higher-cost replacement power from other utilities.

Balbis held the conference to get an update from the utility and its parent company, Duke Energy, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. Consumer advocates, including the state's Office of Public Counsel, also participated.

"There have been a lot of events that have occurred that have put twists and turns in the road," said Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel, who joined the conference by telephone. "Certainly the pace of things is not what we would have wanted or expected."

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