Florida nuclear option grows

By LIA MARTIN

As Florida’s population grows, major cities such as Jacksonville, Orlando, Tallahassee and Miami will need more water and electricity to power the load that growth always brings. Coal-burning and gas-run power plants may become a thing of the past, in spite of efforts to keep them open and environmentally more friendly.

Enter the prospect of nuclear power. In most European and Asian countries, going nuclear already is a given.

In 2008, Florida legislators agreed that there was no other way to power the state. And the Florida Public Service Commission knew it must plan to go nuclear. Later, it was believed that nuclear power plants would counterbalance global warming, no longer keeping the coal-fired plants burning.

Because smaller cities like Tampa are not sure they can afford nuclear power plants, Duke Energy in St. Petersburg, as well as other local utility companies, are adding environmental changes to their coal-fired power plants required by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, so they will not have to find the bigger bucks to power its communities.

Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Cabinet members are allowing Florida Power and Light, the state’s biggest utility company, to finalize plans to add two new nuclear reactors to a plant outside Miami, as well as lay 88 miles of transmission lines.

FPL has been working toward this end since 2006. The Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Public Service Commission have supported this project since that time, in spite of residents from surrounding cities protesting.

The cost of the project will be $24 billion.

There is a concern that taxpayers will be paying for the reactors for years before they become a reality. More than one city is suing the state of Florida over this nuclear decision for violating original franchise agreements already in place.

Miami city attorney Victoria Mendez said during the recent Cabinet meeting that the nuclear project needed to be brought before the courts because the decision to expand was too one-sided.

FPL says that the two new nuclear reactors would not come online until 2028, but it assures the community that the reactors will save its customers more than $64 billion over 40 years, the life of the reactors. FPL also is on record as saying it will add 8,000 jobs to the Miami-Dade County area.

Coral Gables, along with Miami and Pinecrest, argue that FPL should be installing underground power lines. The affluent communities say they need to reduce the negative economic impact the above-ground power lines will bring on property values.

FPL says that if the cities want underground lines, they need to pay for them.

Mendez questions why Scott and his Cabinet  recommended the nuclear project before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has even given its blessing on the project.

“If there is never NRC approval of these nuclear reactors, then there should be no transmission lines built, and that’s the key,” Mendez said during the Cabinet meeting. “It needs to be clear.”

However, FPL knows that state law will allow the utility to begin building transmission lines before the NRC approves the nuclear reactor project. If necessary, they can still use the lines for power from their natural gas plants.

Coral Gables city attorney Craig Leen said his city had one small win. FPL would reduce its power pole height throughout the city, he said, though the 230-kilovolt power poles would still be from 77 to 85 feet tall.

“We saw the proposed order,” Leen said. “We were going to lose, so we tried to get as much as we could get out of this proceeding. We feel it’s in the best interests of the city.”

Coral Gables is still suing FPL, in spite of working with them to modify the outward appearance of the power poles.

Miami-Dade County residents will be asked to start paying for the transmission lines as soon as FPL gets approval from the Florida Public Service Commission.

FPL is one of the biggest campaign contributors to the governor’s office, the Cabinet and the Republican Party of Florida. In 2010, FPL contributed $3 million to those three campaigns.

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