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Bill filed to repeal Duke Energy's nuclear advance fee and force refunds

A pitchfork is hoisted towards the Duke Energy head quarters during the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's pitchfork protest in October in downtown St. Petersburg. "Floridians are tired of being taxed for projects that will never come to fruition," Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, said. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]

A pitchfork is hoisted towards the Duke Energy head quarters during the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's pitchfork protest in October in downtown St. Petersburg. "Floridians are tired of being taxed for projects that will never come to fruition," Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, said. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

A bipartisan pair of Tampa Bay area lawmakers have filed legislation to repeal the nuclear plant construction advance fee and to require Duke Energy Florida to refund billions it has collected for failed nuclear projects.

Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, and newly elected Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, are making good on campaign pledges to take action against Duke for money the utility has collected from 1.7 million customers without delivering any electricity.

"Floridians are tired of being taxed for projects that will never come to fruition," Murphy said. "This practice of billing taxpayers without providing results is unacceptable and needs to be prevented from occurring in the future."

Added Latvala: "It is critical that not only is the fee fully repealed, but any money that has been taken from the citizens of the state of Florida is fully refunded to the taxpayers who funded these unsuccessful projects by the utility company."

State lawmakers created the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause in 2006 as a way to hasten construction of nuclear plants.

Duke proposed to build two reactors in Levy County but canceled the project as natural gas prices plummeted. Duke spent $1.5 billion of ratepayer money through the advance fee for planning and development, including $150 million it pocketed. In addition, Duke used the advance fee to bolster power at the now shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant, but that money also was lost in a botched upgrade. With advance fees and other spending, customers are paying Duke about $3.2 billion without receiving a single kilowatt for the money from Levy or Crystal River.

In response to the proposal by Murphy and Latvala, Duke said it would review the details of the legislation. "We will work with state representatives Murphy and Latvala and other members of the Florida Legislature on this legislation," said Nicole LeBeau, a Duke spokeswoman.

Duke has raised the ire of local lawmakers in a series of decisions many view as anti-consumer. Over the summer, Duke's changes in meter routes led the utility to temporarily extend as many as 267,000 customers' billing cycles. Customer bills revealed additional charges in some cases of $100 or more for the extended days and, for some, the additional days bumped them into a higher rate class.

In addition, Duke charged some businesses higher deposit fees and was charging small businesses, including churches, a higher rate than necessary.

It all led Sen. Jack Latvala, father of Chris Latvala who filed the legislation Monday, to say there would be an effort to reform the state Public Service Commission and rein in Duke.

The legislation by Chris Latvala and Murphy follows other measures filed last week by Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, to reform the PSC by requiring such changes as term limits and residency in one of five districts that the Legislature would create.

Contact Ivan Penn at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

Bill filed to repeal Duke Energy's nuclear advance fee and force refunds 12/08/14 [Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2014 7:26pm]
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