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FPL Rates Rising To Pay For Nuclear Programs

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) - Florida residents will see a slightly higher Florida Power & Light bill beginning next year.

State regulators announced on Monday that customers of two largest electric utilities will pay $282 million next year to upgrade nuclear power plants and build new ones even if those projects are never completed.

The Public Service Commission approved the full $196 million that Florida Power & Light Co. sought for pre-construction expenses. The five-member panel, though, agreed to cut Progress Energy Florida's $141 million request by about $55 million, or nearly 40 percent. The votes were unanimous in each case.

FPL's 4.5 million customers in South Florida and along the state's east coast will pay a nuclear cost recovery charge of $2.20 per month next year for 1,000 kilowatt-hours, which is about average residential usage. That's $1.87 more than the recovery charge they are paying now.

Progress Energy's $86 million charge amounts to $2.93 per month for 1,000 kilowatt hours. That's $2.60 less than the company now is charging its 1.6 million customers in north and central Florida.

Some local officials, individual customers and consumer groups objected to the fees on grounds the utilities have not yet made final decisions to go forward with the projects. They also have not yet received all needed licensing and regulatory approval.

The law is being challenged in federal court and legislation has been introduced to repeal it next year. A similar bill this year failed to get traction in the Legislature, which passed the cost recovery law in 2006 to encourage the expansion of nuclear power. Utilities otherwise would have to borrow the money, but many investors are reluctant to take a chance on nuclear plants.

Lawmakers see nuclear energy as a way to reduce dependence on foreign fuel and cut climate-changing air pollution. Nuclear power critics cite such problems as ever-increasing construction costs, the still unsolved issue of spent-fuel disposal and potential radiation hazards if something goes wrong, such as Japan's nuclear disaster following an earthquake and tsunami.

The nuclear fee is a relatively small component of each customer's bill. The commission next month will begin hearings on similar fuel cost recovery fees for all five of Florida's investor-owned power companies. Also, Gulf Power Co. currently is seeking an increase in its base rates while FPL and Progress plan to do the same next year.

The commission in 2012 also will consider whether to pass on to consumers various costs related to the shutdown of Progress Energy's Crystal River nuclear plant for repairs in 2009. It's still closed and isn't expected to reopen until 2014.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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