OPC wants Duke to refund $54 million

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By Pat Faherty

The Florida Office of Public Counsel (OPC) wants Duke Energy to immediately credit back to customers approximately

$54 million for components that were never delivered for the Levy County nuclear plant, but were already paid for by charges on power bills.

Duke has sued Westinghouse Electric Company in federal court to recover the $54 million, which the utility would apply to rates. Duke spent the money in 2008 and 2009 for nuclear reactor parts that were never delivered, according to testimony before the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) on Monday.

“Six long years Duke customers have suffered,” said Charles Rehwinkel, deputy state public counsel, referring to the advance nuclear charges, which show up on electricity bills. “Duke finally took a step to put the doomed Levy project out of its misery. On Jan. 28 they canceled the contract.”

Duke currently charges customers $3.45 per month per 1,000 kilowatt hours for the Levy project, which brings Duke about $100 million a year. That charge will remain in affect through 2017 or until full recovery of the project investment, which has yet to be determined.

OPC, which advocates on behalf of Florida’s utility consumers, acknowledges the credit might not translate to lower power bills in 2014- 15, but would send a message to customers that Duke and the PSC are at least committed to recovering this amount for customers.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate,” said Thomas Foster, Duke’s director of rates and regulatory planning. “If we are successful with the lawsuit, any money that comes back will go to benefit customers.”

Beyond the $54 million, Rehwinkel mentioned Westinghouse’s lawsuit against Duke — $512 million — for breach of contract for not building the plant. “The looming storm is Westinghouse’s effort to exploit this by cramming $500 million of costs down the throat of Duke customers,” he said.

Duke’s total investment in the Levy project is projected to be $1.1 billion, of which approximately

$937 million is recoverable from customers through the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause. By the end of this year, the company projects it will have collected $834 million for the Levy project.

The PSC is expected to make a decision on the $54 million in October.

Contact Chronicle reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or pfaherty@chronicleonline.com.