Despite opposition from hundreds of Florida Power & Light customers and advocacy groups, Tuesday the Florida Public Service Commission approved FPL’s request to charge customers more than $200 million to clean up contamination from its nuclear plant’s cooling canals.
The 5-0 vote means that FPL can begin to recover costs from customers for the 10-year fix of the groundwater pollution stemming from its Turkey Point plant 25 miles south of Miami.
The Office of Public Counsel, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group argued at an October hearing that FPL’s management knew or should have known for decades that a salty plume of water was contaminating the Biscayne Aquifer. The aquifer is the sole source of drinking water for 3 million people, including Palm Beach County Water Utilities’ customers.
The underground plume has spread 5 miles west of the plant that overlooks Biscayne Bay. The contamination has also spread into Biscayne National Park.
The intervenors, including more than 800 FPL customers who wrote the PSC, argued that FPL should not be allowed to recover the costs because it had made poor decisions and was negligent in managing the 2-by-5 mile unlined cooling canal system.
SACE Executive Director Stephen A. Smith said in a statement Tuesday, “FPL customers should not have to pay for FPL’s legacy of negligence and mistakes in the operation of the failed cooling canal system at its Turkey Point plant. It is obscene that FPL will be rewarded for their screw-ups and even make a profit off a portion of the proposed $200 million clean-up operation all paid by hardworking Florida families.”
Commission Chairwoman Julie Brown and other commissioners said the decision to approve the costs, to be collected as an environmental fee, not in base rates, was difficult.
Commissioner Gary Clark said of the Turkey Point canal system’s problems, “It’s hard for me to say that anyone could have actually seen this coming.”
PSC staff recommended approval of the costs, saying that FPL had adhered to requirements ordered by state and local regulators, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District. The staff found no evidence that FPL submitted or withheld false data.
Commissioner Donald Polmann said he agreed with Clark, and that a tremendous amount of work had gone into making sure the commission had the information needed to make its decision.
“There is a lot of controversy over this. Many people outside, and intervenors, they have their opinions, but I think we have done our work,” Polmann said.
“I have experience in work elsewhere, and I know what it means to deal with regulatory agencies, and I understand what it means to comply with regulatory requirements. I know what the utility was up against. It is regrettable that some people do not understand that, but I do, and I know what I have looked at,” Polmann said.
Polmann previously served as director of science and engineering for Tampa Bay Water.
SACE issued a statement saying that the PSC ignored over 800 customers’ objections when it voted to approve the remediation plan.
“The price tag for the plan, which experts do not believe will work, is projected to exceed $200 million over ten years – and the PSC ruled that customers will begin paying these clean up costs starting this year,” SACE officials said.
Testimony in the Environmental Cost Recovery Clause docket by an OPC expert witness outlined how FPL knew or should have known since 1978, or at least by 1992, that the pollution plume was growing and that the Turkey Point cooling canals were causing it.
“Instead, FPL sat on its hands for decades as the plume grew in size and concentration. FPL, one of the biggest power companies in the country, racked up a $1.7 billion profit last year,” SACE said.
SACE’s Smith added, “This is the very definition of “ pollute and loot.” The Commission has done a disservice to Florida bill-payers by making them pay for FPL’s mistakes. It is clear that we need bold leadership in Tallahassee to protect the economic interests of Florida’s families and businesses from the manipulative hand of monopoly utilities like FPL.”
While finding that FPL acted prudently, the PSC disallowed recovery of the utility’s $1.5 million escrow payment required by DEP. FPL did not meet its burden of proof that the funds would be used to benefit FPL’s ratepayers.
In September 2016, under a consent order from DEP, FPL began a project to inject 15 million gallons a day of hypersaline polluted groundwater from beneath the cooling canals into the boulder zone, 3,200 feet below the surface. The water is removed through w ells drilled into the aquifer.
FPL is also freshening the cooling canals by adding up to 14 million gallons of less salty water from the deeper Floridan Aquifer.
For more than 40 years the system has circulated billions of gallons of water daily to cool the plant’s two nuclear reactors. On average, about 600,000 pounds of salt a day seeps from the canals into the groundwater.
FPL preliminarily estimates that the typical customer’s bill will be impacted between 25 and 50 cents. However, the environmental fee on a typical residential bill will be $1.59 in 2018, down from $2.44 this year.