Duke Energy to pocket customers' $1.5 billion

6:39 PM, Aug 2, 2013   |    comments
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PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida -- It's $1.5 billion of your dollars you're not getting back.

On Thursday, Duke Energy Florida (formerly Progress Energy) announced that the company would pull the plug on its future Levy Co. nuclear plant. And the money the company has been collecting from customers for years -- and will continue to collect until 2018 -- will go toward Duke Energy's expenses and profits.

"That was a vote that I regretted," said State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, of his vote supporting the 2006 Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause. "If I had to do it all over again, I would have voted 'no.'"

Fasano was one of more than 150 legislators to support the sweeping energy bill in 2006 that included a provision to allow power companies to bill customers well in advance for nuclear facilities that may, or may not, build in the future.

But Fasano was also one of the first legislators to warn of unintended consequences of the legislation, launching efforts to repeal the clause in 2007.  Every year Fasano tried to fight for change, he was rebuffed by the powerful energy lobby and legislators who were friendly to their cause.

Meanwhile, since the law was passed, Duke/Progress Energy has spent nearly $5 million in direct campaign contributions to state candidates and political groups, plus much more lobbying.

Other energy companies are spending to protect their legislative interests too: Florida Power & Light (FPL) has spent $12 million on direct campaign contributions, while Tampa Electric Co. (TECO) has spent $3.4 million. 

State Database: Which politicians have received campaign checks

Among them, legislators who voted for the 2006 law were Dennis Ross, now a US Congressman; Marco Rubio, now a US Senator; Charlie Justice, now a Pinellas Commissioner; Victor Crist, now a Hillsborough Commissioner, and then-Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who is back in the legislature again.

And the man who introduced the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause was then-Senator Jeff Atwater, who now serves as Florida's Chief Financial Officer.  Atwater's office said the CFO was unavailable for comment Friday.

Fasano, who is back in the legislature himself, says recouping the money from Duke Energy is unlikely, but he hopes the media coverage of the issue helps a repeal of the 2006 law to progress this year.

"What the legislature has to do is have some courage and put the customer first," Fasano said, "and not the Florida Power and Light, the Duke/Progress Energies of the world."

Duke Energy declined interview requests, but issued a statement to 10 News that read:

Developed collaboratively with the Office of Public Counsel and other consumer advocates, the agreement contains provisions related to the Crystal River nuclear plant (CR3), the proposed Levy County nuclear project, the Crystal River 1 and 2 coal units and future generation needs in Florida. The agreement represents an effective balance between moderating rate impacts to customers and providing clarity on cost recovery of past investments, which allows Duke Energy to move forward with planning Florida's energy future. We wanted to further moderate rate impacts to customers and provide clarity on cost recovery of past investments. The settlement allows Duke Energy to move forward with planning Florida's energy future and focusing on what we do best: providing affordable, reliable and sustainable electric service 24/7.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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