Duke Energy Corp., the largest utility in the U.S., is pulling back on plans to build a $24.7 billion nuclear power plant in Levy County, FL, the company said.
Duke Energy said it made the decision because of delays by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in issuing licenses for new plants, and because of legislative changes in Florida.
Duke, however, did not close the door entirely on the Levy County project. The Charlotte, NC-based company said it will still to pursue a NRC license for the plant — something Duke could receive in late 2014 or 2015, said Alex Glenn, Duke Energy’s state president in Florida.
“We continue to believe that the Levy site is a viable option for future nuclear generation and we want to keep that option open,” he said.
But Duke would have to evaluate energy factors before deciding whether “new nuclear generation makes sense.”
“You have to look at project cost. You have to look at what are the energy needs in our service territory. You have to look at carbon regulations. Is there a carbon regulation? Is there a carbon tax? You have to look at — for the long term — what do you think natural gas prices are going to do. And I think we have to look at existing and future legislative provisions for cost recovery,” Glenn said.
The news comes just a few years after U.S. nuclear industry executives said they were on the cusp of a revival. That revival fell short as new technology allowed drillers to tap more natural gas within the United States, which increased supplies and pushed down prices.
The proposed plant, and how the company was raising money for it, have fallen under considerable debate in Florida.
Duke has been charging its customers nuclear cost recovery fees for the two, planned 1,100-megawatt nuclear units in Levy County. Through these fees, Duke customers have paid $1.5 billion for the plant so far.
Florida State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-Pasco County, said the news did not surprise him.
“I’ve been saying for years that Duke had no intention of building these power plants yet they continue charging the customers for it,” Fasano said. For several years Fasano tried to repeal the cost recovery fee.
The state’s Public Service Commission and the state legislature should have “been more aggressive” with Duke and asked more questions, he said.
In February, Duke decided to close the Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida after workers cracked a concrete containment building during an attempt to upgrade the plant in 2009. An attempt to fix the problem in 2011 resulted in more cracks.
In states where utilities operate as monopolies, they are reluctant to ask their regulators for permission to build enormously expensive nuclear plants, or even fix old ones, when building gas-fired factories is so cheap. In places where utilities sell power into the open market, the low prices don’t counter the financial risk of building expensive nuclear plants.
Two brand-new nuclear plants are under construction in Georgia and South Carolina that use the same reactor design proposed for the Levy County plant. Separately, the Tennessee Valley Authority is finishing a previously abandoned nuclear plant at its Watts Bar plant. Utility companies have struggled to contain costs on all three construction projects.
Meanwhile, utilities shuttered older plants. In June, Southern California Edison announced it would close its San Onofre plant rather than fix damaged equipment. The two reactors shut down in January 2012, when a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of new tubes carrying radioactive water.
Dominion Resources Inc. announced late last year it would close the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin because it couldn’t find a buyer.