Two Florida utility companies – Duke Energy Florida and Florida Power and Light (FP&L) – were hit with a class-action lawsuit on February 22, brought by consumer-rights law firm Hagens Berman on behalf of their cumulative 6.4 million ratepayers.
The plaintiffs allege that the utilities have forced millions of Florida customers to pay unlawful charges on their monthly bills to fund the companies’ nuclear power plant construction projects.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, contends that, since 2008, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) has authorized the two utilities to collect more than $2 billion in nuclear costs from customers. The legal seeks relief for anyone who is a customer of either of the utilities, including reimbursement for costs passed on to the customers to fund the nuclear projects.
“These two utilities have racked up huge expenses with nuclear power plant projects – some of which they completely abandoned – and have left ratepayers holding the bag,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “We believe the consumers in this instance are being forced to pick up the tab for Duke Energy Florida and FP&L in violation of their constitutional rights.”
In addition to a refund of the payments, the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration binding on the defendants that the Nuclear Cost Recovery System and all nuclear cost recovery orders issued under it are unconstitutional and void, and an order enjoining defendants from further unlawful charges.
According to case documents, Duke abandoned all of its nuclear projects in 2013, and FP&L’s proposed expansion of an existing plant continues to be bogged down in red tape. The suit lists as an example that Duke abandoned a nuclear power plant in Levy County, which reportedly cost Florida ratepayers $1.3 billion, and that full amount has not yet been collected.
Duke, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in a statement on February 23 that the lawsuit should be dismissed and noted that the Florida law has been unsuccessfully challenged in four previous state court cases, according to Penn Energy.
“Duke Energy is evaluating this lawsuit and will respond based on the facts and applicable law,” the statement said.