Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
You and Progress Energy walk into a bar. Progress says it’s going to order $24 billion worth of drinks, but they won’t arrive until 2024. Oh, and you have to pick up the tab — even if the server drops the tray and the drinks never arrive at all
So begins a devastating Orlando Sentinel column on Progress Energy’s planned twin nuclear plants.
I wrote about these nukes three years ago — see “What do you get when you buy a nuke? You get a lot of delays and rate increases”:
When we last left Progress Energy in 2008, it had said the twin 1,100-megawatt plants it intends to build would cost $14 billion, which “triples estimates the utility offered little more than a year ago.” And that didn’t even count the 200-mile $3 billion transmission system utility needs, which brings the price up to a staggering $7,700 a kilowatt.
Under Florida law, to pay for these nuclear power plants, Progress Energy can raise the rates of its customers a $100 a year for years and years and years before they even get one kilowatt-hour from these plants. Sweet deal, no?
But as we know, “nuclear power appears to have a negative learning curve.” Heck, three years ago, French nuclear giant Areva “acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as … double the price offered to the Finns.”
So the 2009 Progress Energy price is just a distant memory — as was its original 2016 completion date. As the Orlando Sentinel explained after Progress raised the projected cost the the third time five years:
The price jumped from $17 billion in 2008 to as high as $22 billion in 2011 and now up to $24 billion today. The company doesn’t expect to start producing power at the plant until 2024, eight years later than it originally thought.
And it’s possible the plant won’t be built at all.
But Progress’ customers are still paying for it each month. Expect an extra $3.45 a month on your bill next year all the way through 2017. That’s a total of $207 during the next five years, if you don’t have a calculator handy.
The nuclear tax — we might as well call it that since it’s a mandatory fee sanctioned by state government — is likely here to stay, though it’s being challenged in court.
New nuclear plants are so expensive they are likely to provide new electricity at some 15 cents per kilowatt hour (see “Nuclear power, Part 2: The price is not right“) — or even higher (see “Exclusive analysis, Part 1: The staggering cost of new nuclear power“). The precise answer — some 50% higher than average U.S. electricity prices or more — is hard to know since it is hard to find a utility willing to stand behind a firm price in a rate hearing.
Solar power has been coming down in price so fast that it is already a better option than nuclear for those concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, especially if solar could get the same forward pricing deal. The same is true of wind power. Another option would be a hybrid concentrated solar thermal power and natural gas plant (see “World’s second* largest solar plant to be built in Florida“).
But certainly the best and cheapest ‘generation’ option for Florida is energy efficiency (see “Efficiency, Part 3: The only cheap power left“). If you could forward bill customers for energy efficiency and do every energy efficiency measure that was cheaper than even $.06 a kilowatt hour, you wouldn’t need to build another nuclear power plant — or probably any other plant — for a long, long time.