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10 posts from August 5, 2013

August 05, 2013

Despite dimming future for nuclear power, FPL asks to continue collecting for Turkey Point

Five years and more than $650 million into refurbishing and building nuclear reactors, Florida Power & Light officials told regulators Monday that it can’t guarantee what new reactors will cost consumers, when the reactors will deliver energy, or even if it will get a license to finish the job.

Despite the uncertainty, the state’s largest electric company asked regulators to allow it to continue to charge customers to pay for the prospective expansion of the Turkey Point plant on Biscayne Bay in south Miami-Dade County.

The monthly cost on every customer bill in 2014: 48 cents per 1,000 kilowatt hour on every customer bill, down from the $1.65 a month charged this year to pay for upgrades on the existing reactors.

The earliest conceivable date the project could generate power: 2022. Story here. 

Miami Dade murderer John Errol Ferguson is executed


STARKE -- John Errol Ferguson, 65, was executed Monday evening after serving three decades on Florida’s death row for eight Miami-Dade murders.

His last words unintelligible to witnesses; he was declared dead at 6:17 p.m.

Just hours before, Ferguson dined on standard inmate fare: a meat patty with white bread, steamed tomatoes, potato salad, diced carrots and iced tea.

About an hour before the scheduled execution, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a motion to halt the proceedings.

“We are gravely disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court denied John Ferguson’s request to clarify the standard for evaluating an individual’s competence to be executed and denied his request to invoke the Court’s categorical bar on the execution of the insane,” Christopher Handman, Ferguson’s attorney, wrote in a statement.

“Mr. Ferguson has a documented 40-year history of severe mental illness diagnosed repeatedly by state doctors in state institutions. Mr. Ferguson has been profoundly mentally ill for four decades, pre-dating the crimes for which he is scheduled to be executed, but is now deemed suddenly and inexplicably cured.” Story here.

Movers & Shakers

Dale Chu quits education post

Dale Chu, the chief of staff for former Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, followed Bennett from Indiana to Florida. Now Chu is following his boss in another decision -- he, too, is resigning from the Florida Department of Education.

Bennett resigned last week amid revelations that he intervened in the grading system in Indiana to benefit a charter school run by a prominent Republican Party donor.

Chu, who had been assistant state superintendent in Indiana, resigned his post on Friday.

Dara Kam now with News Service

Dara Kam, who covered state politics for nine years at the Palm Beach Post, this week started working as a reporter for the News Service of Florida.

She'll play a"key role in legislative and campaign coverage and bolster reporting on Gov. Rick Scott's administration,according to the News Service.

During the past 15 years, Kam has been a fixture covering the Florida Legislature as well as state campaigns and major stories, including the 2000 presidential-election recount, Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Kam was also a reporter for the Associated Press and the Gannett News Service.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

Bennett's chief of staff leaves education department

From our friends at The Gradebook:

Dale Chu, chief of staff to former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, resigned his post one day after his boss quit the department.

Chu came to the Florida Department of Education with Bennett from Indiana, where he had been assistant state superintendent, overseeing Indiana's education reform initiatives. He came as part of a team of Indiana transplants whom Bennett relied upon as some of his core advisers.

Chu's name also appeared on several of the emails that became the crux of an Associated Press report indicating that Bennett had changed the school grade of a charter school run by a political supporter. The story led to Bennett's abrupt resignation.

On leaving office, Bennett said he would recommend that the FLDOE retain Chu and Will Krebs, another of the relocated Indiana officials. He called them some of the most talented education leaders in the country.

So far, Chu is the only one to depart, FLDOE spokesman Joe Follick said. His resignation is official on Sept. 3, but he will be on leave until that date, according to his brief letter to interim commissioner Pam Stewart.

Another Republican, Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck, says he'll jump in the CD-26 race

And then there were three.

Look out, Carlos Curbelo and Ed MacDougall. Miami lawyer Lorenzo "Larry" Palomares-Starbuck has announced he'll run for the Congressional District 26 seat as a Republican. State Rep. Frank Artiles is studying whether to hop in the race. Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez has also made noise about running in the GOP primary as well.

The winner would face incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and indpendent candidate Jose Felix Peixoto.

Continue reading "Another Republican, Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck, says he'll jump in the CD-26 race" »

George Sheldon, U.S. health honcho, might challenge Pam Bondi on Obamacare platform


George Sheldon, a longtime Florida political hand and a current U.S. Health & Human Services official, has been talking to political insiders and prospective donors about challenging Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2014.

A top issue for Sheldon: Obamacare, which the Republican Bondi fought in court and still bashes in public speeches.

"What concerns me is the continual flailing against the Affordable Care Act," said Sheldon, a Democrat. "You had it passed by Congress, signed by the president, an election held over it and a Supreme Court decision. At a certain point, we have to move on… but it’s still in her talking points."

Sheldon, HHS' Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, acknowledged that Obamacare isn't the most-popular item to campaign on, according to polls that show it's despised by the far right, disliked by many independents and doesn't go far enough to ensure universal government-run health care in the eyes of many liberals.

Still, Sheldon said, the law is the best the country has. And he said Florida officials should try to make it work in a state that has at least the third-highest rate of uninsured residents: about 25 percent.

Sheldon also faulted the Republican-led Florida Legislature for rejecting Republican Gov. Rick Scott's call this year to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

But Sheldon wasn't completely critical of the GOP or of Bondi. He credited the attorney general for fighting against human trafficking.

"She has been one of those attorney generals who has taken that issue to heart," Sheldon said. "And you have to give credit where credit is due."

Bondi would likely be a tough opponent. Republicans tend to outperform Democrats in non-presidential election years, the GOP has more money in the state and Bondi, a former prosecutor and sometime-legal analyst for FOX, hails from battleground Tampa Bay. Sheldon, though he works in D.C., still calls Tallahassee home.

Sheldon ran unsuccessfully twice before for statewide office, in 2002 for attorney general and in 2000 for education commissioner against Charlie Crist, who later appointed Sheldon to head the Florida Department of Children and Families. Before that, Sheldon served as an associate dean at St. Thomas Law School and prior to that he worked under Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, succeeded by Crist on his way to the governor's mansion.

Sheldon's start in politics began decades ago when he was an aide to then-state Sen. Reubin Askew, who went on to become Florida governor.

Sheldon said he has spoken to Butterworth about his interest in running, but hasn't mentioned it to Crist. He has also reached out to other Florida and national political insiders and financiers, but he won't name names and he isn't ready to say he's definitively running.

The biggest issue: Money.

"The thing that’s daunting, one of the difficulties is Florida is a big media state. You have to have the ability to raise significant resources. You have to analyze that," Sheldon said.

Sheldon said that Askew, in a recent chat, underscored how times have changed.

"What happened to me in 1970 couldn’t happen today," Askew told him, according to Sheldon.

"He got in the runoff for $180,000 and everntually became governor," Sheldon said. "That was when the average FL voter had one newspaper to read and maybe three TV stations. That was a point in time when editorial endorsements made a huge difference. It’s a different world now."

PSC agrees to charge Duke Energy customers $108 million for shelved nuke plants

Duke Energy customers (formerly Progress Energy of Florida) spent $1 billion but never got an atom of energy from the Levy County nuclear power plant, nonetheless the Florida Public Service Commission agreed to let the company collect another $108 million a year through 2017 for the now shuttered Crystal River reactor and the canceled Levy County project.  

The decision by the PSC will add 89 cents a month for 1,000 kilowatts of energy to current bills for customers. The PSC also agreed to Duke Energy's request to defer approval of a proposed settlement agreement it entered into with the state Public Counsel's Office. The company agreed to end plans to build the Levy Plant and work out how to pay the $3.2 billion bill for ending that project and shuttering the Crystal River plant at a hearing next fall.

PSC Commissioner Eduardo Balbis raised doubts about the prudence of allowing the company to charge customers before providing evidence to regulators that the costs associated with the settlement are prudent and feasible.

But he and other commissioners concluded they had no other option, based on a state law that allows utilities to charge customers in advance for nuclear power plants, regardless of whether they are built or not, and a settlement agreement relating to the broken Crystal River plant. 

Continue reading "PSC agrees to charge Duke Energy customers $108 million for shelved nuke plants" »

It's on: Matt Gaetz to debate Dream Defenders director

It’s on.

In a flurry of Tweets on Sunday and Monday, Rep. Matt Gaetz agreed to a televised debate with Dream Defenders Director Phillip Agnew.

The topic: Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law.

Agnew said he challenged Gaetz to a verbal duel late Sunday after spotting news reports that Gaetz wouldn't support changing “one damn comma” in the self-defense law. Gaetz has been tapped by House Speaker Will Weatherford to hold a hearing on Stand Your Ground this fall.

Agnew’s Tweet to Gaetz: @mattgaetz tv debate on #standyourground? I’m in the Capitol.

The reply from the Fort Walton Beach Republican: Looking forward to it. But please keep naked ppl out of the Capitol Chapel til then.

Gaetz was referencing a Capitol Police report that some of Agnew’s Dream Defenders been sleeping in the chapel half dressed. The group has been protesting around the clock for nearly three weeks in hopes of persuading Gov. Rick Scott to hold a special session on Stand Your Ground. Scott has refused.

As for the debate, Agnew said early Monday that the details hadn't been finalized.

The two should be a good match. Agnew, a 28-year-old community organizer, has already proven his oratory chops while delivering speeches on the Capitol steps. And Gaetz, 31, is considered one of the best debaters in the Florida House.

Gaetz was boarding a flight Monday afternoon and couldn’t comment immediately. 

But Agnew said he wasn’t intimidated.

“Oration is only half of the battle,” Agnew said. “At the end of the day, most people will see that this law either needs more work or it needs to go.”

Agnew wrote on Twitter that he was already assembling a team of advisers, and Tweeted the message at Sen. Dwight Bullard, Sen. Chris Smith and Rep. Alan Williams.

Departure of elder care ombudsman gives governor new opening to reveal allegiances

When Harold J. “Jim” Crochet, Florida’s top watchdog for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, quietly submitted his retirement papers last week, it marked the end of a tumultuous administration that prompted widespread criticism Crochet had turned the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program into a rubber stamp for the powerful industry.

Because he had been placed on “indefinite” leave as the Department of Elder Affairs, which houses the Ombudsman Program, conducts an internal investigation into undisclosed allegations of wrongdoing, Crochet likely will never return to the agency he headed for more than two years.

Nevertheless, the inspector general’s investigation will continue, said Ashley Marshall, a Department of Elder Affairs spokeswoman.

Crochet, whose home number appears to be disconnected, could not be reached by the Miami Herald. More from Carol Marbin Miller here. 


Nuclear's future in Florida continues to dim, but will regulators let utilities keep collecting for it?

As the future of the nuclear energy industry in Florida appears to be dimming, the Florida Public Service Commission today takes up requests from Duke Energy Florida and Florida Power & Light to allow them to continue to ask customers to pay for projects they have no certainty of building.

Duke Energy Corp. on Thursday announced it had indefinitely postponed plans to build two new reactors in sparsely populated Levy County on the Gulf Coast, citing federal licensing delays and economic concerns. Those are topped by spiraling construction costs and uncertainty over whether Florida regulators and lawmakers will continue supporting controversial “cost-recovery’’ policies allowing utilities to bill customers in advance for plants with multibillion-dollar price tags.

The decision by the nation’s largest utility is the latest sign of cooling enthusiasm for nuclear power nationwide. It promises to increase scrutiny of Florida Power & Light’s plan to add two more reactors to its Turkey Point nuclear power plant on south Biscayne Bay.

Erik Hofmeyer, an FPL spokesman, said the utility constantly reviews changes in energy markets but remains committed to obtaining a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for two next-generation reactors he said would save customers $78 billion in fuel costs over decades of operation. More here from Curtis Morgan.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/03/v-fullstory/3539831/a-utility-pulls-plug-on-florida.html#storylink=cpy