Duke Energy Florida (formerly Progress Energy) announced that the utility is no longer moving forward with its future Levy Co. nuclear plant.  As for the money Duke Energy has been collecting from customers for years (and will continue to collect until 2018), the company says it will go toward their expenses and profits.

“That was a vote that I regretted,” said State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, of his vote supporting the 2006 Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause. “If I had to do it all over again, I would have voted ‘no.'”

Fasano was one of more than 150 legislators to support the sweeping energy bill in 2006 that included a provision to allow power companies to bill customers well in advance for nuclear facilities that may, or may not, be built in the future.

But Fasano was also one of the first legislators to warn of unintended consequences of the legislation, launching efforts to repeal the clause in 2007.  Every year Fasano tried to fight for change, he was rebuffed by the powerful energy lobby and legislators who were friendly to their cause.

Meanwhile, since the law was passed, Duke Energy has spent nearly $5 million in direct campaign contributions to state candidates and political groups, plus much more lobbying.

Other energy companies are spending to protect their legislative interests too: Florida Power & Light (FPL) has spent $12 million on direct campaign contributions, while Tampa Electric Co. (TECO) has spent $3.4 million.

Among them, legislators who voted for the 2006 law were Dennis Ross, now a US Congressman; Marco Rubio, now a US Senator; Charlie Justice, now a Pinellas Commissioner; Victor Crist, now a Hillsborough Commissioner, and then-Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who is back in the legislature again.

And the man who introduced the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause was then-Senator Jeff Atwater, who now serves as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer.  Atwater’s office said the CFO was unavailable for comment Friday.

Fasano, who is back in the legislature himself, says recouping the money from Duke Energy is unlikely, but he hopes the media coverage of the issue helps a repeal of the 2006 law to progress this year.

“What the legislature has to do is have some courage and put the customer first,” Fasano said, “and not the Florida Power and Light, the Duke/Progress Energies of the world.”

Duke Energy declined interview requests, but issued a statement to 10 News that read:

“Developed collaboratively with the Office of Public Counsel and other consumer advocates, the agreement contains provisions related to the Crystal River nuclear plant (CR3), the proposed Levy County nuclear project, the Crystal River 1 and 2 coal units and future generation needs in Florida. The agreement represents an effective balance between moderating rate impacts to customers and providing clarity on cost recovery of past investments, which allows Duke Energy to move forward with planning Florida’s energy future. We wanted to further moderate rate impacts to customers and provide clarity on cost recovery of past investments. The settlement allows Duke Energy to move forward with planning Florida’s energy future and focusing on what we do best: providing affordable, reliable and sustainable electric service 24/7.”

As a customer, it is certainly distressing to hear news such as this. How can utility companies be allowed to take hard earned money from customers for a project that never comes to fruition? Unfortunately, there is not much customers can do. Legislators control the market for utilities. As long as a proposal is approved, the repercussion will follow.

On the bright aside, there is one thing customers can do to help combat issues such as these – Switch to a retail energy provider. Retail energy providers offer guaranteed fixed rates, enabling customers to bypass hidden fees that utility companies commonly apply to monthly bill. Be smart and start saving money today. Visit www.ElectricityRates.com to compare providers in your area.