Orlando Utilities Commission Considering $800 Million Nuclear Power Deal

OUC desperately wants a new power source that doesn't fill the atmosphere with carbon dioxide

 - By Stephen Heiser -

According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando could soon commit to one of the most pivotal deals in the 86-year history of the city-owned electric provider.  If it happens, OUC's general manager will invest as much as $3.7million as a deposit toward inking a deal this spring to buy up to $800 million worth of a proposed nuclear plant in Levy County.

OUC knows about nuclear energy, owning small shares of Progress and Florida Power & Light Co. plants that were built during the 1970s and 1980s.  Some details of OUC's nuclear-energy deal with Progress Energy Florida are being handled out of the public eye. That's because of a confidentiality requirement enforced by Progress Energy, which wants to build the twin-reactor plant for $17billion and is trying to lure investments from smaller utilities such as OUC.

OUC's 214,000 customers have not voiced any opinion yet on the proposal. Utility officials cannot recall a single word for or against the utility's effort to buy enough nuclear power to supply 100,000 homes.

The subject became real for customers last month when OUC held a public hearing and then raised its rates by 13.7 percent, effective in March. Of that increase, 1 percent is going toward nuclear power.

"Just because no customer has felt the need to write in, e-mail or come to our public workshop in January and complain does not mean they don't support nuclear," said Roseann Harrington, OUC vice president for marketing and public relations. "Maybe it means they do."

OUC desperately wants a new power source that doesn't fill the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which some feel triggers global warming. Expected environmental regulations will financially penalize carbon-dioxide emissions from the burning of coal to produce electricity. Orlando's utility burns coal at a far higher percentage than national and state averages.

The utility's nuclear interest began to solidify in July 2007. That's when OUC signed a confidentiality agreement with Progress Energy, a company of 1.7 million customers and Central Florida's largest electricity provider.  Last August, the state PSC gave its go-ahead to Progress, urging it to spread the pain of the power-plant price tag.

Already eager to become a partner, OUC executives in July gave their governing board an outline of future energy options. Nuclear details were mostly general and centered mainly on four slides in a presentation.

A critical vote came in December, when board members gave OUC's general manager authority to make a $3.7 million deposit toward the proposed nuclear plant.  Once signed, the preliminary deal is to return for final approval by OUC's board in the "March to April 2009 time frame." When that happens, board members will be under pressure to say yes to buying a piece of the Levy County plant. If the board says no, Ksionek likely will have to walk away from the deal and leave the $3.7 million.

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