The long-running campaign to derail Florida Power & Light’s plans to add two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point revved up Wednesday with mayors from three South Florida cities ticking off a long list of concerns ranging from inadequate evacuation zones to ugly new power lines and heightened risks from rising sea levels.
The mayors — Tomas Regalado of Miami,, Philip Stoddard of South Miami and Cindy Lerner of Pinecrest — held a joint conference with one clear goal: Boost opposition to a controversial expansion that will be the subject of two public hearings federal regulators have scheduled next week in Miami-Dade.
“We are looking at a population base within 50 miles of 2.5 million people,’’ said Lerner. “Who in their right mind would put two new nuclear plants at sea level with storm surge?”
In Tallahassee, meanwhile, Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, proposed legislation that would require local approval for controversial fees the state Public Service Commission allows the utility to collect for future nuclear projects.
"FP&L's Turkey Point expansion project makes no sense for our economy, our community or our environment. Yet we are forced to pay millions every year to keep it going with no commitment that FP&L will follow through,” Rodriguez said in a statement.
Several utilities across the country have postponed nuclear expansion plans, largely because of the high costs of construction and the low costs of other fuels, mainly natural gas. FPL has not formally committed to building the two new reactors, but the utility says it continues to pursue a federal license to prepare for growing demand in booming South Florida.
“All you need to do is take a look at the number of construction cranes along Miami’s skyline to understand that the city’s need for electricity is growing rapidly,” spokeswoman Bianca Cruz said in an email. “It would be short-sighted and irresponsible to take the option of new units at the existing Turkey Point site off the table.”
In the decade since FPL announced plans to expand its seaside power plant between two national parks, environmentalists and other critics say their concerns have only deepened, even as the proposal has cleared a string of local and state hurdles.
The thirsty power plant’s two aging reactors have already stressed South Florida’s dwindling water supply, they say, contributing to salt water intrusion that has tainted the underground Biscayne Aquifer. Over the summer, the utility came under increased scrutiny after temperatures in existing cooling canals climbed above 100 degrees, threatening to shut them down. FPL increased pumping from nearby waterways and the Floridan aquifer to cool the canals. Nuclear regulators also bumped up operating temperatures to 104 degrees, the hottest in the nation, to accommodate the canals.
The three cities have also lead a battle against FPL’s plans to string a new corridor of power lines, towering 150 feet over U.S. 1, saying it will hurt property values. They want the lines underground, arguing the towers don’t meet building standards for hurricane winds. But the cities would have to cover the cost, estimated at about $8 million a mile.
Miami is already challenging the power line approval in court and fighting a state plan — along with Miami-Dade County and environmental groups — to shift water oversight from local managers to the state’s environmental agency.
The mayors also argued that the latest climate change projections, which predict a sea rise two feet higher than previously thought over the next century, have not been factored into FPL’s plan. If the utility moves forward, ratepayers could be hit with billions in costs for a facility that might be reduced to an island before the end of the century.
“FPL is trying to save money for themselves, but push the cost on us,” Stoddard said, complaining that South Florida is bearing a heavier cost than statewide utility users.
FPL spokeswoman Cruz dismissed the complaints. Citing rulings from an administrative law judge in the corridor case, she said the charges of weak power poles and declining property values are plain wrong. As for climate change, Cruz also said the new reactors will sit 26 feet above sea level, an elevation that accounts for rising seas or risks of storm surge from hurricanes. She said the utility is following federal guidelines, but could not say whether they reflected updated projections made by the International Panel on Climate Change, the UN agency regarded as the lead authority on climate estimates.
She also said the new reactors will actually improve water conditions by using reclaimed wastewater from a nearby county sewer plant as a primary cooling source. Water from a deep well will be used for back-up.
“What the mayors probably did not say at the press conference is that these new units will take 80 to 90 million gallons of wastewater per day produced by Miami-Dade county, clean it and use it for cooling,” Cruz said.
But the mayors point to the canal problems as an indication of FPL’s inability to manage water concerns in an area where an underground saltwater plume, worsened by the canals, has crept inland and now threatens drinking water supplies. They also worry not enough wastewater will be available, forcing the utility, already the county’s biggest water user, to dip into the aquifer.
“This plan should not be approved as proposed,” Regalado said.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold two upcoming meetings April 22 and 23, at Florida International University and the Hampton Inn in Homestead. The meetings are intended to collect public comment on environmental concerns, but city officials say safety inspectors will also be paying attention. If the cities succeed at blocking the reactors, Miami City Attorney Victoria Mendez said they will also stop the power line because of a concession won in the utility’s state license.
For more information about the meeting, see http://meetings.nrc.gov/pmns/mtg.