Florida House Democrats Dwight Dudley and Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda have been battling for years to repeal the state’s nuclear cost recovery fees, to absolutely no success in Tallahassee. Or much GOP support.
But that’s changing in 2015.
In yet another indication of how Pinellas County Republican lawmakers got the message last fall from their constituents last year that they’re fed up with the state’s energy policies, those Democrats are now being joined by another local Republican in Larry Ahern, who announced today his own bill that would repeal nuclear cost recovery fees in the state. Ahern says the legislation would prevent the future collection of funds for proposed projects, and additionally safeguard ratepayers from incurring costs associated with recovery fees for utility company facilities.
“The consumers are being taken advantage of by utility providers,” said state Rep. Ahern in a statement. “We need to take precautions to ensure that these types of events don’t happen again.”
The nuclear cost recovery fee was enacted with nearly unanimous support from the Florida Legislature in 2006, and was intended to help utilities finance enormously expensive nuclear plants by collecting the money ahead of time through customers’ bills. But the backlash has been severe for years now, due to Progress Energy’s (now Duke) problems in building a nuclear complex in Levy County. Progress charged customers more than $1.5 billion for the now-canceled nuclear plant. Although it will never be constructed, Duke is not required to refund customers for any of the money it collected for the nuclear plants, including $150 million in profit.
Ahern is not the first Pinellas Republican to file such legislation. In December, newly elected Republican lawmaker Chris Latvala teamed up with Pasco County Democrat Amanda Murphy to file their own repeal bill on nuclear cost recovery.
Duke Energy’s actions in 2014 — such as making changes in meter routes that led the company to temporarily extending hundreds of thousands of their customers’ billing cycles, ultimately leading to major bumps in their energy bills — have led to a stunning change of attitude by Republican lawmakers, especially in Pinellas County, where Duke’s Florida headquarters are located.
Add to that state regulators’ refusal to welcome efforts to increase solar power, and there appears to be a much different attitude toward the investor-owned utilities going into the 2015 session.
Having said that, environmental groups remain skeptical until they see what actually transpires in Tallahassee this spring.