ST. PETERSBURG — Duke Energy customers could see their monthly power bills go down by an average of $3.45 by this summer as the company gets close to collecting about $900 million in extra charges for a nuclear power plant that never was built.
In a petition to the Florida Public Service Commission filed this week, the company says it reserves the right to reinstate the nuclear cost recovery fee for the scrapped Levy County power plant at a later date, depending on the result of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit with equipment supplier Westinghouse scheduled for trial in 2016.
Duke has filed a $54-million lawsuit against Westinghouse for nuclear equipment it says was ordered but never delivered.
Westinghouse has made a countersuit for $511 million, claiming damages after Duke cancelled its contract.
Duke already has collected $834 million from its 1.7 million Florida customers in recent years to cover most of the cost of its $1.1 billion investment in the Levy plant, company officials said.
Under state law, the company can collect up to $924 million toward that total, though the Public Service Commission last fall ordered Duke to refund customers the $54 million it’s seeking from Westinghouse.
Since Duke already has recovered most of the total it is allowed to collect for the Levy plant, the company wants to remove that monthly charge now to ensure customers aren’t overcharged before the lawsuit is resolved, company spokesman Sterling Ivey says.
“We’re proposing that the commission remove the charge now and then, after the court decides the lawsuit between us and Westinghouse, we’ve committed to the commission to come back and true up and finalize all the Levy costs,” Ivey said.
“At that point, there could be a requirement for us to put the Levy charge back on customer bills for a short period of time, or maybe we don’t; it really just depends on how the court case ends up.”
The commission has not set a date to consider Duke’s petition; but, if approved, company officials expect the fee to be removed by this summer.
The proposal would not remove a separate monthly fee for another costly investment at the now closed Crystal River Nuclear Plant, which averages about $2 per month, Ivey said.
The company seeks to recover $378 million out of a total investment of $467 million at Crystal River.
At the end of 2014, Duke had collected $160 million for that project.
Duke Energy’s effort to collect millions of dollars for the two nuclear projects has generated significant controversy among its Florida customers and Tampa Bay area lawmakers.
There is a spate of bills filed for this year’s session in the Florida Legislature, which started Tuesday, aimed at reining in power companies such as Duke and reforming the PSC, which many perceive as being overly friendly toward big utilities.
Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, and others have called for the repeal of a provision in Florida law that allows utility companies to charge customers in advance for major energy investments, even if those projects don’t pan out.