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Jack Latvala warns against opposing his nuke plant financing bill

Sen. Jack Latvala on Thursday cautioned against any elected state official opposing his bill that would allow Duke Energy Florida to issue bonds for closing its Crystal River nuclear plant. His warning came after a vote on the House version was delayed this week.

Duke says the plant closing cost is $1.4 billion. Latvala said his legislation, SB 288, would save customers $600 million over 20 years by allowing the company to sell bonds.

Latvala told a Senate committee meeting on Thursday that a “mysterious $6 million fiscal impact” had shown up on the House bill version, HB 7109. A Senate staff analysis said only that the legislation would save money for utility customers.

“None of us really quite understand how our analysis of the fiscal could be so different from that one” in the House, Latvala said.

“I’m hopeful that will work out,” Latvala said. “And I can’t imagine there is anyone in elected service in this building, whether they be the legislative or executive branch, that would dare to oppose the idea of our ratepayers on the West (Gulf) Coast saving $600 million.”

Michael Williams, spokesman for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, said the House temporarily passed the bill after the governor’s office alerted House staff there was a possible fiscal impact. Williams said there was no precise financial impact estimate.

“There was enough of a concern from the House and Senate that we agreed to put it on the agenda for the Joint (Revenue) Estimating Conference tomorrow,” Williams said.

The Joint Revenue Estimating Conference meets in Tallahassee at 9 a.m. Friday in room 117 of the Knott Building.

Duke Energy Florida in 2013 announced it was closing the Crystal River plant after work performed during a plant upgrade caused damage the company said was too expensive to repair.

SB 288 and HB 7109 previously dealt with the Public Service Commission by strengthening ethics training requirements and requiring the commission to hold some of its meetings outside of Tallahassee. The bills were amended last week in House and Senate committees to include the Duke securitization financing deal.

Arguing that Duke customers should not be exposed to interest rate fluctuations, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group had asked for bill language that requires savings. On Thursday, Jon Moyle, a lawyer who represents FIPUG, said the group’s concerns were eased after discussions with Duke.

Latvala told the Senate Committee on Appropriations that the House and Senate bills are so close that it’s “almost scary.” SB 288 passed the final committee stop Thursday on its way to the Senate floor.

SB 288 also requires the Office of Public Counsel, which represents utility customers, to be a party in any rate settlement proceeding that it’s involved in. But Latvala said that language is lacking in the House bill.

Latvala also compared the bill’s cost savings for Duke customers to tax cuts. The House has passed a $690 million tax-cut package while the Senate wants to first deal with health-care spending concerns in the 2015-16 state budget.

“And we talk about cutting $600 million in taxes,” Latvala said. “Well, this is just as good when you can cut somebody’s electric rates. I’m sure we can resolve this issue.”

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

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