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Florida justices hear nuclear plant cost appeal

Associated Press Modified: October 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm •  Published: October 4, 2012

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A law letting utilities charge customers now for future nuclear reactors even if they never get built fails to provide regulators with "adult supervision," a lawyer told the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday.

Gary Davis, representing the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, urged the justices to declare the law an unconstitutional delegation of authority from the Legislature to the Public Service Commission. The high court did not immediately rule.

Davis made his argument in the environmental group's appeal of a commission order that let Florida's two largest electric utilities charge customers $282 million for upgrading existing nuclear plants or building new ones.

Expenses normally cannot be passed on to customers until power plants go into service, but the Legislature made an exception for nuclear reactors in the 2006 law. It's designed to encourage the expansion of nuclear energy.

The law lets the commission members decide whether passing on the nuclear costs to customers is prudent and reasonable, but Davis argued those standards are insufficient and leave regulators with "unbridled discretion." He noted that utilities have been unwilling to spend their own money on the nuclear projects, some of which have been plagued by cost overruns and delays.

"It doesn't provide any adult supervision over what rates are ultimately going to be charged to the consumers of the state of Florida," he said.

Each utility was represented by a former Supreme Court justice, Raoul Cantero for Florida Power & Light Co. and Stephen Grimes for Progress Energy Florida.

They said arguments by Davis and Brian Armstrong, a lawyer for the Village of Pinecrest, went beyond the only two issues in the case. That's whether the utilities intend to go forward with the proposed nuclear projects and if the Legislature's delegation of authority to the commission is constitutional, the ex-justices said.

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