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Florida Power & Light recently marked the completion of $3 billion in upgrades to its Saint Lucie and Turkey Point (pictured) nuclear powerplants. Photo courtesy FPL

Pending a signature from Gov. Rick Scott (R), Florida's Nuclear Cost Recovery law is about to undergo a slight change that could impact the future development of nuclear power within the Sunshine State.

During the just-concluded 2013 legislative session, state lawmakers tightened the requirements for utilities wishing to charge an advance fee to customers for the future design and construction of planned nuclear and combined-cycle gas powerplants. Under the new law, before starting to charge the fee, utilities must, among other things, prove that their planned projects are not only "feasible"—per the current standard—but that they are also "reasonable."

SB 1472's language regarding the "reasonable" requirement is succinct: "In order for the commission to approve proceeding with construction on a plant, it must determine that: a) the plant remains feasible; and b) the projected costs for the plant are reasonable."

The change is a slight one, for sure. The Nuclear Energy Institute has given the change its approval, casting it as a continued endorsement of "pay-as-you-go cost recovery." The same cannot be said for Florida's biggest electric utilities, Florida Power & Light, and Duke Energy (formerly Progress Florida), both of whom have fought the changes.

Lawmakers' addition of the "reasonable" language could be construed as being aimed at Duke Energy's nuclear project long planned for Levy County. In 2008, Progress Energy—since merged with Duke—estimated the cost of the project at about $14 billion. Today, with Duke still yet to state definitively whether it will actually build the plant, the cost has risen to an estimated $24 billion. Last November, despite that rise in price—and the growing popularity of natural gas as a cost-effective energy source—the Florida Public Service Commission unanimously ruled that the Levy County plant was still "feasible," thus approving the utility's request to pass along $143 million in fees to its customers, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times.

With the new language now in place, it would seem possible that the PSC will need to determine, at some point, whether the Levy County plant's costs are, in fact, also "reasonable" to pass along to customers.

Coincidentally, as this legal change was being enacted, FPL was announcing the completion of $3 billion worth of upgrades to its Turkey Point and Saint Lucie nuclear powerplants in South Florida. That effort—funded partly by more than $500 million in fees collected via the state of Florida’s nuclear cost-recovery law—added more than 500 MW of power to FPL’s system capacity, or about 30 percent more than originally planned, according to the utility.

In the video below, the utility adds that its ability to collect money in advance saved customers in the long run, since it reduced FPL's borrowing costs. More power than planned, and cost savings to customers? Sounds like a "reasonable" argument.