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Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin October 15, 2014

Crist says Jeb Bush signed law letting Duke Energy collect advance fees

While Fangate was the talk of Wednesday’s gubernatorial debate, there were other moments, too -- like when Charlie Crist slammed the door on Gov. Rick Scott’s accusations that Crist was the one who let utility companies charge customers for unbuilt power plants.

"Charlie signed legislation that allowed companies like Duke (Energy) to pass on costs for power plants that were never built," Scott said during a discussion of energy policy.

Crist cut his Republican opponent off immediately.

"That’s not true. That was Jeb Bush," he said to applause from the crowd in Davie.

This claim has come up before, when the Republican Party of Florida ran a campaign commercial that said Crist "made it easier for Duke to take your money." We rated that False.

What Crist said at the debate is accurate.

History lesson

This attack centers on the Crystal River nuclear plant and a planned nuclear plant in Levy County that was never built. Duke Energy (which merged with Progress Energy in 2012) fumbled 2009 repairs to the existing Crystal River facility and planned to break ground on the Levy project, but never did.

Because of a 2006 energy bill, SB 888, both Duke and Progress were allowed to charge Florida’s 1.7 million Duke customers an "advance fee" to pay for those plants before any work got under way.

In 2013, Duke decided to shut down the Crystal River plant rather than fixing it, leaving a bill of about $1.7 billion from repair work and other expenses. The company also spent about $1.5 billion on the Levy County project, then canceled it, demanding more and more advance fee money.

The Florida Public Service Commission ruled in an October 2013 settlement that customers would be on the hook for $3.2 billion in expenses, while insurers would pay $835 million and shareholders would pay the rest. A year later, under pressure from consumers and environmentalists, the PSC ordered Duke Energy Florida to credit $54 million back to ratepayers.

Now that we know how the story ended, let’s return to SB 888, which is the legislation that allowed companies to charge advance fees to begin with. The bill passed the Legislature overwhelmingly and was signed on June 19, 2006, by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

That was well before Crist -- who was attorney general at the time -- was serving in the governor’s office. He ran and won that fall, taking office in January 2007.

Scott said at the debate that people should go to one of his websites, FactsForFlorida.com, to see the bill Crist signed, so we looked. But just as the state GOP cited in its commercial, the bill on that site was HB 7135, a 2008 amendment to the original law allowing the advance fee.

The site Scott mentioned read, "2008: Charlie Crist signed a law expanding the Nuclear Cost Recovery Act, allowing utilities to pass on the costs of transmission lines and other construction to consumers."

However, Duke Energy never received any advance fee money as a result of this particular amendment, since there were no transmission lines or construction costs involved for either project. Crystal River was an existing plant, and the Levy project never got out of the planning stages.

"The problem with that argument is that, to the best of our knowledge, Duke never recovered any money related to transmission lines," said Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a nonprofit advocate for sustainable energy policy. "Even though Gov. Crist signed the omnibus energy bill, the provision Scott refers to never played a role in the costs now being borne by Duke Energy customers."

There’s a different company that stands to benefit from the amendment Crist signed, however: Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light Co., with 4.4 million customers in Florida. That’s because in May, Scott and his Cabinet approved FPL plans to erect 88 miles of giant transmission lines for two new reactors in Miami-Dade’s Turkey Point facility, over the protests of residents and local officials.

Our ruling

Crist said former Gov. Bush signed legislation allowing utility companies to charge customers for power plants that were never built.

Scott and Republicans point to a 2008 amendment that Crist signed into law, but this amendment never led to any charging of customers for either facility at issue -- the Crystal River plant or the uncompleted Levy County plant.

Instead, the operative law was signed in 2006, when Bush -- Crist’s Republican predecessor -- was governor. And ironically, it’s Scott whose decision has allowed a utility company to potentially benefit from the measure Crist signed.

We rate Crist’s statement True.

Our Sources

Florida gubernatorial debate, Broward College, Oct. 15, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Florida GOP says Charlie Crist 'made it easier for Duke to take your money'," Aug. 15, 2014

Tampa Bay Times, "PSC orders Duke to refund $54 million to customers," Oct. 2, 2014

FactsForFlorida.com, "The facts about higher utility costs," Oct. 15, 2014

Florida Senate, SB 888, accessed Oct. 15, 2014

Florida Senate, SB 1472, accessed Oct. 15, 2014

Florida House of Representatives, HB 7135, accessed Oct. 15, 2014

Interview with Brendan Gilfillan, Crist spokesperson, Oct. 15, 2014

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Crist says Jeb Bush signed law letting Duke Energy collect advance fees

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