Duke Energy Customers in Florida can prepare to dump out their wallets again. Last week the Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the controversial settlement agreement over Duke Energy’s $5 billion nuclear boondoggle after hours of testimony and questions about whether the deal is good for the Duke’s customers.
The settlement is one of the largest electric utility settlements in US history, it passed with very little public comment or input. A two day hearing was held in Tallahassee (with lawyers, accountants, Duke executive’s and intervening parties. In a 4 to 1 vote commissioners thought this settlement was in the best interest of the customers, without hearing from the customers themselves. Tallahassee is an over 4 hour drive for most people in Duke’s service territory. Public Service Commissioners were urged by the few customers and State Representatives that attended to hold hearings in areas of that state where Duke has customers. The request was responded to with the excuse of budgetary restraints preventing statewide public hearings. Funny, the PSC has a $25 million budget paid for by taxpayers. You’d think they would be able to afford one hearing outside of Tallahassee.
In 2006, the Florida Legislature passed one of the worst laws in state history, Advance Nuclear Cost Recovery, which allows utility companies to pre-charge customers for the construction of future nuclear plants. This law is basically a blank check from customers to energy companies.
So far, customers have been forced to shell out nearly $5 billion for botched repair jobs at Duke Energy’s Crystal River Nuclear Plant and costs associated with the scrapped Levy County Nuclear Plant. For the Levy plant alone, customers will pay an average of $900 for a project that was destined to fail from the beginning due to the exorbitant cost overruns inherent to building nuclear power plants.
What did we get for $5.1 billion? Nothing, not one kilowatt of electricity. We paid Duke for their mistakes and mismanagement.
In the weeks leading up the decision on Crystal River and Levy, two rallies have been held outside of Duke Energy’s HQ in St. Pete. Hundreds of Duke Energy customers rallied to show their outrage over the billions of dollars we have been forced to pay. We are also demanding answers; how could Duke mess something up so badly– to the tune of $5 billion– and not be forced to offer up any explanation? Sadly, with the settlement approved, Duke will never have to give any sort of explanation. The PSC did not even question Duke’s mismanagement and as a result, customers will bear the largest expense–$3.2 billion, while shareholders only have to pay $1 billion.
For Duke’s Florida customers, the scariest part of this story is that it seems destined to repeat itself. Duke Energy is poised to yet again select an outdated method of generating energy and an antiquated business model based on its own profit motive, instead of one that would offer the greatest value to its customers. This time, Duke’s poor investment will be in natural gas plants, which Duke would be automatically approved to build under the proposed PSC settlement.
We deserve affordable, safe and clean electricity. We shouldn’t and will not pay for Duke’s mismanagement and be the company’s bank for projects that Wall Street will not fund. The federal government estimates conservatively that gas prices will continue to rise by nearly 3% per year, and Florida’s over-reliance on gas makes it especially vulnerable to volatile gas prices. Meanwhile, solar panel costs are dropping astronomically. Duke should offer solar options to its customers, not lock us into a gas plant for 35 years that is a bad deal for everyone but Duke Executives.