Decision to close Crystal River nuclear plant puts burden on rate payers and local economy

Closing nuclear plant leaves customers on the hook

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. - The decision to close the Crystal River nuclear power plant comes with a high price, especially if you're a  Progress Energy customer. You will pay an estimated $1.3 billion and not get a single watt of extra energy in return.

Tuesday's decision by Progress Energy, now part of Duke Energy, makes Crystal River the first nuclear power plant ever shut down in the southeast U.S.

How did we get here?  A normally routine upgrade to the plant in 2009 went terribly wrong.  Instead of hiring a proven outside contractor, Duke/Progress Energy tried to save money by doing the work themselves.  They ended up cracking the 3.5-foot thick containment wall of the reactor.  It's been shut down ever since.

Some, like State Representative Mike Fasano believe the company should have shut it down long ago.

"Duke Progress Energy has been not honest with the customers or the Public Service Commission. They have not been honest with the legislature," said Fasano from Tallahassee on Tuesday.

Fasano says the delay has cost rate payers $1.3 billion.  Closing, decontaminating and dismantling the plant could add another billion in cost and take decades, yet it's still less risky and likely cheaper than trying to repair it.

Duke Energy's CEO Jim Rogers said in a press release, "We believe the decision to retire the nuclear plant is in the best overall interests of our customers, investors, the state of Florida and our company..."

What's next?

Duke/Progress Energy may replace the nuclear plant with a new natural gas plant. That could save some of the 600 jobs at risk with the nuclear plant closing, but it too will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  They may also double down and build more nuclear plants.

Whatever they decide, rate payers will end up paying a huge penalty for mistakes they had nothing to do with. And the surrounding community of Citrus County will have to deal with sharply lower property tax contributions from Duke/Progress Energy.

"They should be refunding the customers who put out the billion plus dollars. Of course that isn't going to happen, unfortunately," said Fasano.

The Public Service Commission that regulates utilities in Florida also made a statement today saying no costs will be passed onto consumers without their review.

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