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Fla. senators eye changes in nuclear utility rates

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 21, 2013 at 4:14 pm •  Published: February 21, 2013

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Four Republican state senators Thursday announced plans to seek changes in a Florida law that lets utilities charge customers for future nuclear power plant construction even if it never gets built.

A House member sponsoring repeal legislation, though, said the Tampa Bay area lawmakers' proposal won't work because it doesn't go far enough and utilities will find a way around their revisions.

Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, said the legislation's intent is to protect consumers' interests, assure accountability and transparency and responsibly plan for Florida's long-term energy needs.

"On the details, there is plenty of room for conversation," Legg said at a news conference. "But on these three principles there will be no room for compromise."

Legg's bill, which hasn't yet been filed, would set a deadline for construction to begin and eliminate the profit utilities can make on customers' prepayments if they fail to build a plant. Another provision would reduce interest utilities now earn on carrying costs on their projected construction cost balances from a current 8.5 percent to an annual market rate, said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

"This is merely a Band-Aid or even could be a whitewash — telling consumers that they've done something and not doing anything, really," said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda. The Tallahassee Democrat is sponsoring a bill that would repeal the 2006 nuclear cost recovery law. "This half-measure just doesn't move us forward."

Rehwinkel Vasilinda advocates conservation and renewable energy as alternatives to nuclear power. She said the Senate legislation appears to be aimed at heading off a repeal vote. Legg denied that.

Utilities normally cannot begin billing customers for the construction costs or upgrades until generating facilities go into service. The 2006 law makes an exception to that policy for nuclear power.

It was designed to encourage more nuclear plants, which are riskier and much more expensive to build, to reduce the state's reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas that cost more and contribute to air pollution and climate change.

Latvala, though, said "times have changed." He noted gas prices have fallen since 2006 along with the need for new generating capacity because Florida's population growth has slowed due to hard economic times.

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