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Nuke plant continues

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By Jeff M. Hardison

ST. PETERSBURG - Progress Energy Florida (PEF) continues moving forward with its plan to build two nuclear power plants in southern Levy County despite rising construction costs, according to PEF spokesman Buddy Eller.

"We expect to file our state need case with the (Florida) Public Service Commission within the next 60 to 90 days," Eller said.

It won't be until that time when PEF can say just how much more the nuclear power plants will cost in comparison with estimates from a year ago, he said, because the company is still involved in ongoing negotiations with Westinghouse Electric regarding the price of the plants.

In December of 2006, PEF said one nuclear plant to be built in southern Levy County would cost between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion. There is a 40 percent difference between those two numbers.

Those figures, however, are irrelevant because PEF then decided it could build two reactors on the site located on the east side of U.S. Highway 19, north of Inglis.

The $5 billion to $7 billion costs projected by doubling the single-plant estimate are off track as well, because the price of steel, concrete, copper, labor and transportation have all gone up in the past year, he said.

Progress Energy Florida continues with its plan to add the nuclear plants in Levy County as part of its mix of electricity-generating facilities. PEF uses coal, oil and natural gas as other fuels besides fissionable material as methods to make electricity, he said.

Coal is the main fuel for PEF plants, with 42 percent of electric power coming from that source, Eller said. Natural gas power plants generate 24 percent of the electricity for PEF. Nuclear plants make 18 percent of the power and fuel oil accounts for another 16 percent. Another 5 percent of the power, he added, comes from renewable energy sources and from energy efficiency.

In addition to creating generating plants, PEF is very active with its program to help people use electricity efficiently. By reducing wasteful uses of electricity, it cuts back the need to build more plants, Eller said.

"Over the past 20 years" Eller said, "our energy conservation program has saved 11 megawatts of power. That's equal to what one of the two proposed Levy County nuclear power plants could produce."

The electric utility business is capital intensive, he added. The company has 4,500 employees and among them are people who forecast monetary and energy trends for years and decades in advance of demands.

Through these projections, it is clear that building nuclear plants for electric generation is the most cost-effective plan, Eller said. Nuclear power also provides the most long-term cost stability for the utility company, he said.

The last time PEF built any base-load generation unit was in 1984, when it built Crystal River Unit 5. This is a coal-powered generating unit, he said.

Progress Energy Florida, Eller said, is working in collaboration with state and local officials to best serve its customers.

As for the cost of construction, whether the plant is coal-powered, natural gas-fueled, powered by fuel oil or nuclear powered, materials and labor prices have gone up in the past year.

The company's engineers and accounts see nuclear power as the least expensive, most stable energy source for making electricity, Eller said.