SACE says it’s hopeful with Duke-Progress Energy merger

The leader of a Southern regional environmental group that has been battling Progress Energy over energy conservation and a planned new nuclear plant in Levy County says it’s hopeful that the utility’s merger with Duke Energy will lead Progress to take more environmentally friendly positions.

Duke Energy and Progress Energy on Monday announced the merger agreement to combine the companies, though each will retain its own name. With 1.6 million customers in Florida, Progress Energy is the second largest utility in the state behind Florida Power & Light Co. with 4.5 million customers.

Progress Energy has proposed building a new nuclear plant in Levy County but faces opposition from local environmentalists and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The Florida Public Service Commission has rejected Progress Energy’s proposed energy conservation plan along with those submitted by Gulf Power and the Tampa Electric Co. (TECO). They were required under the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act.

SACE has no illusion that Progress will drop its plans for the Levy nuclear plant, said Stephen Smith, the group’s executive director. That’s because Duke Energy is “equally bullish” on nuclear energy and is trying to finish a new nuclear plant in Florida, Smith said.

His group also has criticized Progress Energy for exaggerating the cost of conservation measures in an earlier plan filed by the utility before the Florida PSC.

Progress Energy said last year the cost for conservation would jump from $3.24 now to $14.08 the first year if the PSC yearly goals for utilities were strictly followed. Progress Energy had proposed a more gradual increase to $6.38 the first year and eventually to $30.17 in year 10. The PSC is scheduled to consider a revised plan on Feb. 22, an agency spokeswoman said.

Smith said his group is more hopeful that the merger will cause a shift at Progress Energy on energy conservation and renewable energy.

“Our hope comes from the fact that Duke, as a culture, has probably been a little bit — not much, a little — better on some of the bigger environmental and policy issues, embracing renewable energy and being forward-thinking on energy-efficiency,” Smith said.

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