Nine protesters gathered outside the Capitol this morning after trying to meet earlier with Gov. Charlie Crist at the Governor’s Mansion. Although Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, and other speakers later urged the Cabinet to reject the plant, both Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum expressed support for the project and for more nuclear energy in Florida before hearing from opponents.
“I want to commend Progress Energy for this proposal,” said McCollum, who is running for governor in 2010. “In the broad sense, we have long needed more nuclear plants to be built in this country and for Florida to have a lead that you are taking.”
The Cabinet voted 3-0 to approve site certification for the plant as recommended by a state hearing officer. The utility company still must receive approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has delayed a decision by 20 months, said Jeff Lyash, executive vice president of corporate development for Progress Energy.
The plant was expected to begin operations in 2016, Lyash said, but he gave no new date for completion. The company has asked the Public Service Commission for approval to charge customers $6.69 per 1,000 kilowatt hours monthly to help pay for the plant.
Lyash said the company will close two coal-fired coal plants at its nearby Crystal River plant in 2020, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 5 million tons per year. He said the $17-billion plant is expected to create 3,000 jobs during construction and 800 full-time jobs permanently.
“At Progress Energy, we are committed to securing Florida’ s energy future and doing it in an environmentally-sound and cost-effective manner,” Lyash said. With two 1,100-megawatt units, the plant will produce enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes.
Opponents raised a variety of concerns related to the plant, including safety risks and possible barriers to producing wind, solar and other sources of renewable energy. Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said the NRC has sole jurisdiction over nuclear safety and waste issues.
Representatives of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which had filed a legal challenge to the site certification, did not speak at the Cabinet hearing but later issued a statement criticizing the vote.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda told the Cabinet, “We need to give renewables — truly clean renewables — some room to breathe.
“I’m concerned about cost with regard to this nuclear power plant,” she said. “I’m concerned about the time it will take to build this nuclear power plant. I’m concerned about number of jobs. I’m concerned about the danger and I’m concerned about the legacy we leave our children and our children’s children.”
CFO Alex Sink also voted for the plant but did not comment. Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson, the fourth member of the Cabinet, was absent from the meeting.
Crist, who said the plant will help diversify the state’s energy supplies, told reporters prior to the Cabinet meeting that he didn’t turn down a meeting with the protesters.
“I heard about it and actually, out of the window of the mansion, I saw some people with some signs,” Crist said. “It said, ‘No Nukes,’ if I read it right … I’m sure we’ll have a good discussion about it.”
Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.