Editors Rebel Against Ratepayer Financing For Nuclear Plants

This is a tale of two editorials today: one in Utah, lambasting a lawmaker for trying to sneak a price hike into energy bills to pay for a proposed nuclear plant, and one in Florida, demanding the repeal of just such a price hike, which has collected hundreds of millions from ratepayers for nuclear plants that may never be built.
The central question behind both: how to pay the steep overhead for nuclear plants in an era when natural gas is flowing cheaply from fractured shale.
Supporters of nuclear power say reactors provide reliable, zero-carbon-emission energy the country needs to avoid dependency on natural gas. But opponents and regulators, watchdogging nuclear perils, can be c0unted upon to keep nuclear overhead in the billions.
In Utah, State Sen. Curt Bramble introduced SB199, a bill that allows utilities to bill customers in advance for "zero-carbon emissions generation" plants that produce up to 3,000 megawatts. The Salt Lake Tribune sees right through that language, saying the bill was "dropped in the hopper at the behest of developers who just won’t give up the foolish idea of building a nuclear power plant on Utah’s Green River."
The bill proves that nuclear power is too risky and expensive for private capital markets, says the Tribune, so utilities that want to build plants and developers who want the electricity are trying to shuffle the cost onto ratepayers. The problem is that the billions needed for permitting and design could, as the Tribune puts it, "lead to a dry hole."
And that's just what seems to have occurred in Florida, where the editors of the Lakeland Ledger and Winterhaven News Chief want to repeal a 2006 law that allows utilities to bill customers in advance for proposed nuclear plants. Thanks to this law, Florida Gas & Light will collect $151 million this year, by the Ledger's account, and Duke Energy will collect $143 million.
And the utilities are not obligated to return that money.
"To the contrary, the fee translates into hundreds of millions in profits for the companies, regardless of what they do," the Ledger contends. "Duke Energy is forecast to pocket $150 million, whether the Levy plants are built or not."
Florida's legistlature passed the "Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause" in 2006 when the state was growing, natural gas was expensive, coal had an increasingly soiled reputation for soiling the atmosphere, and it had been decades since the last reactor meltdown.
Much has changed since then, and Florida's utilities are "no longer as doggedly pursuing new nuclear power plants," according to the Ledger, but still collecting the fees.
On Valentine's Day, the relentlessly positive Nuclear Energy Institute told financial analysts that "the value proposition for nuclear energy is strong and will reassert itself as we move beyond the near term.”
NEI President Marvin Fertel was armed with a new poll showing overwhelming support for nuclear energy among Americans (NEI manages to produce polls showing increasingly overwhelming support every six months or so). Apparently not included in the poll, however, was this question:
"Are you willing to pay, in advance, the overhead for permitting, design, and construction of nuclear plants?"

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