December 20, 2017

HOMESTEAD — The Florida Public Service Commission, a five-member panel whose mission is to facilitate the efficient provision of safe and reliable utility services at fair prices, unanimously approved Florida Power & Light’s request to collect $176.4 million from its customers to pay for the utility’s effort to draw back a hyper-saline plume that has leached underground.

The plume, which is fueled by the nuclear power station’s leaking cooling canals, is edging toward the shallow and porous Biscayne Aquifer, which supplies the region with drinking water, including the 17 million gallons consumed on average each day in the Florida Keys.

“PSC concluded that FPL was prudent in its actions and expenditures for the historic operation of Turkey Point’s Cooling Canal Monitoring Plan,” the state commission said in a press release. 

The PSC, however, disallowed recovery of the utility’s $1.5 million escrow payment required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection saying FPL did not meet its burden of proving that the funds would benefit FPL’s ratepayers.

FPL is the primary supplier of electricity to the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative and Keys Energy Services.

The utility’s request to have customers, rather than shareholders, foot the cleanup costs is in accordance with the environmental cost recovery clause created by the Florida Legislature in 1993. 

FPL has proposed to remediate the underground plume by using recovery wells to tap into it and draw its water back to Turkey Point, where a cluster of three deep injection wells will drain the hyper-saline water 3,200 feet underground into the boulder zone.

Biance Cruz said that the $176.4 million figure is based on a 10-year projection, from 2017 to 2026, and doesn’t exclusively cover the canal monitoring plan.

“Some of the costs are canal-related, others are not,” Cruz said.

She explained that the initial costs for the $176.4 million in operations, maintenance and compliance costs for the Turkey Point Cooling Canal Monitoring Project and other projects will be highest in the beginning during the construction of recovery and monitoring wells which have already begun being installed. She projects that costs will decrease significantly as the project moves forward.

“Approximately 3.7 billion gallons of hyper-saline groundwater from beneath the (cooling canal system) have been extracted and disposed of in the naturally saline boulder zone formation. This has resulted already in the removal of 890,000 tons of salt from the Biscayne Aquifer beneath the CCS,” Cruz previously told the Free Press.

The PSC reached its decision during its December meeting held last week despite numerous environmental agencies and hundreds of concerned ratepayers crying foul.

No one has been more vocal in demanding the utility to address the plume than the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

“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. This is the very definition of ‘pollute and loot,’” SACE Executive Director Stephen A. Smith said. “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.”

SACE spokeswoman Jennifer Rennicks said there is no plan to appeal the decision. The group will instead focus efforts on its Clean Water Act lawsuit, which calls for FPL to replace its canal system with cooling towers. The matter is to go to trial in 2018.

tjava@keysnews.com