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FPL Says Nuclear Power Should Be Considered a Renewable Energy Supply

Aug 30, 2008 - John Dorschner - The Miami Herald

In the massive discussion that's starting to shape the future of electric power in the state for decades to come, an executive of Florida Power & Light insists that the best way to reduce greenhouse gases is to define nuclear as a renewable energy source.

By doing that, FPL has told regulators it can greatly speed up the state's push to combat global warming by having 20 percent of all power come from renewable energy by 2030, rather than by 2050, which is the timeframe now being discussed by regulators.

"We raised the bar and shortened the target," Eric Silagy, FPL's chief development officer, said in an interview with The Miami Herald. "We're proposing a more aggressive target and shortening the time frame."

Environmentalists disagree. "It's so wrong on many levels," said Jerry Karnas of the Environmental Defense Fund. "It's distasteful. . . . I'm shocked we're even debating it."

George Cavros of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said: "No. 1: nuclear is not a renewable resource. No. 2: The Legislature mandated that nuclear power not be a renewable resource. And thirdly, the nuclear industry already has so many incentives that to ask for additional support is unconscionable."

The discussion about nuclear came up earlier this week during a workshop put on by staff of the Public Service Commission, in response to a legislative act ordering the commission to develop a renewable energy portfolio standard and send it back to the Legislature by Feb. 1 for approval.

The law defines renewables as solar, geothermal, wind, ocean, waste, hydroelectric or biomass, which can be created by burning garbage, plants or wood.

Earlier this month, commission staff started a discussion process by drafting a "strawman" proposal for renewables. "We needed something to start the discussion to get the best possible information for the commissioners to make a decision," said Ryder Rudd, director of the commission's office of strategic analysis and governmental affairs.

The draft suggests that by 2010, 2 percent of the prior year's retail sales should be made up of renewable energy for each investor-owned utility. That would increase to 3.75 percent by 2017, 6 percent by 2025 and 20 percent by 2050.

FPL has said it is willing to do that much faster: 5 percent by 2017, 10 percent by 2015 and 20 percent by 2030 -- if the commission includes three things in a renewable standard: nuclear power, modernizations of older power plants, and energy efficiencies that would reduce greenhouse gases.

If one concern is climate change, Silagy said, then faster should be considered better. "This is consistent with what we've been saying. As Lew Hay [chief executive of parent FPL Group] has said, the time for action is now."

FPL has already announced three solar plants to be completed in the next several years. They will produce 110 megawatts of power -- but that is less than a half-percent of FPL's total annual output. The new nuclear power generators being proposed for Turkey Point will produce about that amount of power.

Silagy said FPL is not turning away from solar, but "it just makes sense for nuclear to be included." Nuclear is a baseload power supply, "operating 24 hours a day while emitting zero greenhouse gases. Solar power is intermitment," producing electricity perhaps 22 to 24 percent of the time.

Karnas of the Environmental Defense Fund said he wasn't opposed to nuclear completely. "It could be part of our energy policy as we turn to low-carbon sources," but the Legislature has already given nuclear plenty of breaks, including the utilities' ability to charge customers for construction costs years before the plants are completed.

But nuclear plants are so huge compared to solar, that they "would just completely suck all the air out of the room for any renewable energy market," leaving solar with virtually no chance, Karnas said.

Nuclear already accounts for 19 percent of FPL's energy, but spokesman Mayco Villafana said that to meet the new standards, current generation would not be counted. "It would only count new nuclear generation."

Villafana noted: "Our comments are in response to the staff's current recommendation; therefore they are subject to change as the PSC staff gathers comments, recommendations and possibly amends its position."


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