Florida’s transition to more efficient and clean energy production hit a speed bump in January when Juno Beach, Fla.-based FPL Group said it would immediately halt work on approved nuclear and modernization projects that collectively totaled as much as $20 billion. The sudden move came on the heels of the state Public Service Commission rejecting FPL’s requests for rate hikes totaling more than $1 billion. FPL Group Chairman and CEO Lew Hay cited the decision as evidence of a deteriorating regulatory climate in Florida that “is increasingly hostile to investment.”

The largest projects are two additional nuclear units at the utility’s existing Turkey Point complex in Miami. The work, granted PSC approval in 2008, would add 2,200 megawatts of nuclear-generating capacity. FPL estimated the cost of the project at between $12 billion and $18 billion.

FPL also halted two modernization projects at its existing Riviera Beach and Cape Canaveral plants, as well as a proposed natural gas pipeline and what it termed “numerous discretionary infrastructure projects.”

Together, the costs of the Riviera Beach and Cape Canaveral modernizations were estimated at roughly $2.4 billion. These projects, first announced in April 2008, would have converted these plants from oil-fired to natural gas.

The updates at the Cape Canaveral Next Generation Clean Energy Center, as it’s called, would have increased capacity from the current 800 MW to an estimated 1,250 MW. Upgrades at the Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center would’ve more than doubled that plant’s capacity, from the current total of approximately 560 MW to 1,250 MW. The two existing units at Riviera Beach were originally scheduled to be replaced starting in early 2010.

The utility claimed that improvements to these two plants would cut carbon-emissions by 50%.

FPL spokesperson Mayco Villafaña stated that no engineering firms or contractors had been hired for any of the three affected projects.

Villafaña clarified the announcement as “a suspension of all engineering and construction activities such as negotiations with vendors for supply contracts and activities related to the design and planning for construction.”

Regarding the nuclear project, Villafaña added: “FPL remains committed to creating an option to build clean and cost-effective nuclear generation. Therefore, we will continue to pursue obtaining all licenses and approvals at the federal, state and local levels.”

A week after FPL’s announcement on Jan. 13, the PSC’s lawyer, John T. Butler, sent a letter inquiring further about the utility’s plans. The letter inquires about FPL’s previous plans to retire the existing Cape Canaveral and Riviera Beach units. The PSC had previously approved FPL’s recovery of $44.9 million in net costs based on the retirement and modernization of these plants.