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Regulators absolve Duke Energy customers of lingering Levy costs

TALLAHASSEE — For Duke Energy Florida customers, the never-built Levy Nuclear Project is finally, officially behind them. Per a unanimous decision by regulators Wednesday, Duke customers, who have doled out nearly $1 billion for Levy costs over the past five years, will not have to pay any more.

"I think that this settlement as a whole benefits consumers and is ultimately in the public interest," said Ronald Brisé, commissioner with the Florida Public Service Commission, at Wednesday's hearing.

Duke Energy strikes deal to lower customer bills, boost solar

As part of a settlement between Duke and several consumer groups that the PSC approved, customers' monthly bills will be cut by $2.50 per 1,000 kilowatt hours starting January 2018 without the nuclear cost recovery fee.

But rates will still go up. The settlement also allowed Duke to collect $196 million in underestimated fuel costs, translating to an increase in customer bills from $118.41 — current as of July — to $123.88 per 1,000 kilowatt hours.

To date, Duke ratepayers have already sunk $800 million into the Levy project, which they will not get back. Duke will write off the remaining $150 million it owes, meaning the public company's shareholders are absorbing the charge.

"We feel like the cost of Levy being written off is a small price to pay for moving forward," Harry Sideris, president of Duke's Florida operations, said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in late August.

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The nuclear elephant-in-the-room resulted from Progress Energy, Duke's predecessor, asking ratepayers for money up front for a future nuclear facility in Levy County. It was intended to reduce energy costs going forward, and paying ahead of time would speed the process along.

Though ratepayers were charged the upfront costs, Duke pulled the plug on the project in 2013.

According to Duke representatives at the Wednesday PSC hearing, customers will also not be charged for the cost of the land that the facility was meant to be built on. It will be considered for potential solar or natural gas facilities.

The agreement also signals a significant shift toward use of solar power. Over the next four years, Duke will add 700 megawatts of solar power, about 75 megawatts of which will come online by early 2019.

Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo on Twitter.

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