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House rejects effort to repeal nuclear power fee

A House subcommittee unanimously voted to file a Public Service Commission committee bill after rejecting a series of amendments that included repealing a charge allowed for proposed new nuclear plants.

The proposed committee bill, EUS 15-01, establishes term limits for commissioners, requires a person who lobbies the PSC Nominating Council to register as a lobbyist, and authorizes the governor to remove a PSC member who has violated state ethics laws.

The House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee voted unanimously to file the bill.

Rep. Dane Eagle, subcommittee chairman and a Republican from Cape Coral, said the bill represented great legislation.

“This does a lot of good things,” he said. “This is going to help protect some consumers. It adds transparency and accountability to the process.”

Democrats also praised the bill even though amendments they supported were voted down by the Republican majority on voice votes. But Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said the Legislature needed to go further in setting policy that would encourage energy conservation and diversify Florida’s energy supply.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, a St. Petersburg Democrat, had filed six amendments including repealing the 2006 state law that allows utilities to charge for nuclear plants that may never be built.

The Tampa Bay Times has reported that Duke Energy Florida customers are on the hook for $3.2 billion toward a proposed new nuclear plant that has been abandoned and repairs at the Crystal River plant, which the utility now says will remain closed.

Dudley said the law placed the risk on ratepayers while letting the company assume  profits.

“These companies have plenty of money,” Dudley said. “They can do this without our help. They do not need working Floridians’ (money). They don’t need families that have enough risk.”

The amendment, though, as the other five filed by Dudley, died on voice votes that appeared to follow party lines with Democrats supporting and Republicans voting against.

Another amendment would have required the five PSC commissioners to be elected from districts. Another would have prohibited the PSC from allowing utilities to charge customers for the cost of oil and gas exploration.

The PSC in December approved Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to request to collect from customers a $191 million investment in natural gas drilling projects in southeastern Oklahoma. FPL says the investment provides a net savings to customers of $52 million.

Jon Moyle, representing the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said his group doesn’t believe the Legislature has authorized the PSC to allow utilities to charge for oil and gas exploration.

“I would urge you as a public policy not to allow regulated utilities to get into competitive businesses,” he said.

The amendment was voted down without comment from committee members speaking in opposition.

Dudley and other Democrats on the committee said they still supported the bill even though amendments they supported were voted down. Democratic Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee, though, said he remained concerned that people who don’t engage in lobbying could be required by the legislation to register as lobbyists if they voice support for a PSC candidate.

Rep. Mike La Rosa, a Republican for St. Cloud, said the bill has differences from the senate bill, SB 288 by Sen. Jack Latvala, a Palm Harbor Republican. One difference is a requirement in the Senate bill that’s not in the House bill that the PSC hold meetings in the districts of utilities.

The differences with the Senate bill are not “majorly significant — otherwise I would have put them in this bill,” La Rosa said.

“But there are certainly things we need to pay attention to in their debate and their discussion as their bill moves forward,” he said.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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