Occupy St. Pete goes after Progress Energy: Don't make us pay for your mistake!

12/21/11 Janelle Irwin
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About 75 Occupy St. Pete protesters lined the streets and crowded the corners in front of Progress Energy’s downtown St. Pete offices last Saturday. Reports they want the energy giant to stop asking rate payers to foot the repair bills on its nuclear plant.

Progress Energy’s Crystal River nuclear power plant sustained serious damages that caused it to go offline. One protester, Christian Haas said Progress Energy should shoulder the financial burden for the damages he believes are their fault.

“Now if it was a natural disaster or something that was going to limit our ability to have energy, that’s something we could talk about, but if you made a mistake – not only have you made a mistake, you’re a fortune 500 company lining the pockets of a lot of high level energy executive – I don’t think the average tax payer who’s barely making it by in this economic environment should be forced to pay for that mistake.”

But Progress Energy spokesperson Rob Sumner deflected blame for the large gap in part of a concrete containment building, called delamination.

“Independent analysis later determined that the delamination could have neither been predicted or prevented and the U.S. nuclear regulatory commission, after months of inspections, agreed.”

Progress Energy will charge $3.88 per month on a 1000 kilowatt hour residential bill in 2012 for replacement power costs while the Crystal River power plant is under repair. That rate hike was approved by the state’s Public Service Commission. The commission’s five officials are appointed to four year terms by the Governor, but Occupy St. Pete protester Haas said if they were elected, rate payers may be better represented.

“It used to be an elected body, they switched it to be an appointed body. The reasons, I’m not sure, it’s kind of obvious, they don’t want to go through the trouble of an election to set regulations for the public services especially when they have super-influential public service providers.”

Progress Energy wants to build two new nuclear reactors at a site in Levy County. Nuclear cost recovery for that could cost rate payers up to $60 a month on a 1000 kilowatt hour residential bill. Bill Hurley was one of the protest’s organizers. He said that’s a lot of money to pay for a project some customers may never even see completed.

“If they don’t fix it and they want to make their new nukes they can keep charging us for that and it could take 30 years for them to build one. And they don’t have to give that money back. They can just keep it for their profits.”

Ninety-year-old Aurora Kellman has been a socially liberal advocate most of her life. She said she sees the possibility of history repeating itself as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

“Well, I think the whole system at this point is not working as it ought to. The difference in the poverty as opposed to the super rich who don’t give a damn about anybody but themselves. I think it’s – I shouldn’t say I think it is – I hope it is falling apart. Things get bad enough, I think we will get more and more organized as we did in the depression days.”

Some Occupy St. Pete protesters are also concerned about the environmental ramifications of repairing or rebuilding a nuke. Environmental advocate William Nicks the seventh, isn’t opposed to nuclear energy if companies are responsible with building and maintaining their plants.

“They are massive. You destroy an ecosystem. There is a subset of animals somewhere. You have to build away from residency and obviously the only places that you are going to have free to build are these forested areas, these small wooded areas still within our city boundaries; we’re going to have to tear those apart. We then get into the issue of tearing apart vital ecosystems for endangered species.”

Organizer Bill Hurley added the public has been supportive of the Occupy movement in St. Petersburg – especially this topic – even if they can’t participate.

“Some people can’t come out because they’re worried about their jobs. If the come and support us at Gas, they’re afraid that they will get fired and we don’t want that.”

Utility cost recovery is also drawing attention from St. Pete City Council. In a meeting last Thursday, council member Karl Nurse said the nuclear cost recovery shifts all of the risk to ratepayers while Progress Energy gets to keep all the profits. Occupy groups from across the state came together in Orlando earlier this month where they added this issue to a list of demands to be presented to the state legislature during its upcoming session in January.

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