FPL offers to skip nuclear fee — but rate hike is still looming

With its future nuclear construction plans on hold, and plans in sight to seek a major rate increase, Florida Power & Light has asked to take a break from charging customers for nuclear plant development next year

In documents filed with the Public Service Commission on June 17, FPL said it is “willing to defer consideration” of its request to charge customers $22 million in 2017 and instead will take a one-year break from collecting the “nuclear cost recovery fee until 2018.” If approved, the change could save customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours a month 34 cents on their monthly bill in 2017.

Meanwhile, FPL is asking regulators to look favorably on two other proposals that will cost customers considerably more than the nuclear cost recovery fee.

State regulators on Tuesday gave the company 10 years to clean up a massive underground plume of saltwater threatening drinking water well fields near its Turkey Point plant. The company has said that the clean-up efforts could cost about $50 million in the first year alone and could increase the typical customer bill 25 to 50 cents a month.

In August, the company will also ask state regulators to approve a $1.33 billion rate increase over the next three years that could increase customer bills by 27 percent. According to documents filed with the PSC, FPL not only seeks to increase customer base rates, it also wants to raise fees on things like connection charges and late payments for delinquent customers.

If the PSC approves the full rate increase, a customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours a month will see base rates increase by $14.67 a month to $71.67 by June 2019.

Since 2008, FPL has charged customers $282 million in advance for the construction of Units 6 and 7 at its Turkey Point site on Biscayne Bay using the nuclear cost recovery law it helped to push through the Legislature in 2006.

After eight years of planning, the company has yet to receive federal approval to construct the plant and, in April, FPL announced it was postponing construction until at least 2020. It said, however, that it would continue to pursue a federal license that would clear the way for construction.

The delay means two next-generation reactors initially projected to go online as early as 2018 and 2020 likely would not fire up for perhaps another decade.

“FPL will continue to work on obtaining all approvals and maintain compliance with those received,” said Peter Robbins, manager of nuclear communications for FPL. “It’s important to develop this opportunity for nuclear generation. Emission-free, base-load generation located in South Florida continues to be an important option, and completing this lengthy process will add diversity to FPL’s long-range fuel mix.”

Regulators will decide at the commission’s July 7 meeting whether to approve the request, and if they agree, the nuclear cost recovery fee will be removed from customer bills for 2017 and be restored in 2018.

None of FPL’s traditional critics have voiced any concern about a one-year halt in the nuclear fee, according to the filing.

“FPL is authorized to represent that the Office of Public Counsel ‘does not object to deferring FPL issues including prudence review of these costs until the 2017 NCRC docket,’ the city of Miami and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy do not object to this motion,” the company told regulators.

Mary Ellen Klas: @MaryEllenKlas