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Florida regulators approve nuclear power rates

Associated Press Modified: November 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm •  Published: November 26, 2012

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's two largest electric utilities won state approval Monday to charge customers $294 million in costs for future nuclear facilities in 2013, despite objections from consumer advocates.

The five-member Public Service Commission unanimously approved a decrease from the current rate paid by Florida Power & Light Co.'s customers but agreed to an increase for those served by Progress Energy Florida.

FPL sought $151 million, which will be $1.69 per month for a typical residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours. That's 51 cents less than this year's nuclear cost recovery charge.

Progress will get $143 million. That will increase the current charge for a 1,000-kilowatt hour customer by $1.93 to $4.79 per month.

Utilities normally cannot pass on such expenses until new or renovated plants go into operation, but state law makes an exception for nuclear facilities. The law is designed to encourage nuclear power despite high construction costs compared to other generating options.

Since the law went into effect, more than $1 billion in expenses for future nuclear facilities already have been passed on.

"This is an extremely unfortunate situation for utility customers in Florida who are being forced to pay this 'nuclear tax' up front for electricity that will very likely never be produced from proposed new reactors," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The Knoxville, Tenn.-based group opposes the nuclear cost recovery law and has challenged it in the Florida Supreme Court. The justices heard oral arguments in October but have not yet ruled.

FPL officials dispute the group's criticism noting that reactor upgrades will be completed by the end of this year at the utility's St. Lucie plant and by spring at its Turkey Point plant. Both companies, though, also are passing on planning and other preliminary costs for building new reactors, which are subject to possible cancellation if they prove unfeasible. Those costs would "start growing fairly astronomically" if actual construction does begin, said Mark Laux, an analyst for the commission.

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