TALLAHASSEE -- Five years and more than $650 million into refurbishing and building nuclear reactors, Florida Power & Light officials told regulators Monday it can't guarantee what new reactors will cost consumers, when the reactors will deliver energy or even if it will get a license to finish the job.
Despite the uncertainty, the state's largest electric company asked regulators to allow it to continue to charge customers to pay for the prospective expansion of the Turkey Point plant on Biscayne Bay in south Miami-Dade County.
The monthly cost on every customer bill in 2014: 48 cents per 1,000 kilowatt hour on every customer bill, down from the $1.65 a month charged this year to pay for upgrades on the existing reactors.
The earliest conceivable date the project could generate power: 2022.
"I can't commit to a date certain, or a cost certain," said Steve Scroggs, senior project manager for FPL. "I can tell you that it is every bit the company's intention to complete this project," he added, acknowledging getting a license for the project may still be years away.
Scroggs and other FPL officials said, however, the project is a good bet for customers because they intend to build the plant and, if they succeed, the payoff -- fuel savings of more than $78 billion over the life of the plant -- will be worth it.
The Public Service Commission will decide this fall whether it agrees. But shrouding FPL's request is the rocky history of speculative nuclear power in Florida.
Last week, Duke Energy of Florida, the state's second-largest electric utility, announced it was indefinitely scrapping plans to build a nuclear reactor in Levy County after collecting more than $1 billion from customers in pre-construction costs and equipment before it obtained a license.
Like FPL, Duke Energy was allowed to charge customers in advance to build nuclear plants under a 2006 law intended to encourage low-emission energy production for the capital intensive nuclear plants.
For years, critics warned the law failed consumers and provided few safeguards the money would lead to plant construction instead of profits for shareholders. When legislators proposed tightening the law, FPL and Duke Energy's predecessor, Progress Energy, vigorously fought the efforts and the bills never got a hearing.
This year, the law was changed to require the companies to prove their nuclear projects are reasonable and financially feasible. The companies must now also start building a plant within 10 years of receiving a license, or they forfeit the ability to charge the nuclear fees.
Joe McGlothlin, attorney with the Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public in utility cases, told regulators the annual cost of the proposed Turkey Point reactors has more than doubled from $750 million to $2.2 billion in the last year, evidence that it is no longer a reasonable cost.
George Cavros, an attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, also urged the PSC to reject FPL's request and avoid another "financial fiasco."