Miami-Dade commissioners balk at FPL deal to use county wastewater

FPL and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez have proposed sharing the cost to build a wastewater treatment plant which would provide treated wastewater to help freshen troubled cooling canals.
FPL and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez have proposed sharing the cost to build a wastewater treatment plant which would provide treated wastewater to help freshen troubled cooling canals. emichot@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade County commissioners on Thursday balked at a potential deal Mayor Carlos Gimenez has struck with Florida Power & Light to share the cost of building a wastewater treatment plant, a project with an undetermined price tag that could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I’m tired of the county being fleeced,” Commissioner Dennis Moss said during a meeting of a committee that reviews items before the full board considers them.

“If this goes forward, I want FPL to be successful,” he said. “I want a win-win, but we can’t be on the short end.”

The committee, which includes a majority of commissioners, agreed to defer a participation agreement needed to move forward for a month, giving the staff time to include more details about the project proposed for the Turkey Point power plant site along south Biscayne Bay.

During his state of the county address last week, Gimenez announced that FPL had agreed to share the cost of a treatment plant that would help the county meet a 2025 state mandate to stop dumping sewage offshore and instead reuse about 117 million gallons a day. In return, FPL would receive about 60 million gallons of treated wastewater daily to help freshen troubled cooling canals connected to Turkey Point’s two aging reactors.

FPL canal aerial
Cooling canals that act like a radiator helping cool two reactors at Turkey Point cover about 5,900 acres and over the years leaked underground, helping spread a saltwater plume threatening groundwater supplies. Emily Michot Copy Photo

The utility, which two years ago shelved plans to construct two new reactors at the site, also announced that it was applying to extend the operating life of the original twin reactors for another 20 years. They were built in the 1970s and the federal operating licenses are now set to expire in 2032 and 2033.

But Thursday, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa pointed out that FPL had previously agreed to decommission the canals, which the county cited for violating pollution laws after finding they were leaking into Biscayne Bay and spreading an underground saltwater plume.

“We told them at that time you need to shut it down,” she said. “The idea was the commission got a commitment from FPL to discontinue the cooling canals by 2032 for a more modern technology.”

Environmentalists also worry that the proposed participation agreement leaves out assurances over water quality and freshwater needs for Biscayne Bay.

“The fundamental point here is that we simply do not have enough clean fresh water for Biscayne Bay and reuse water is an amazing solution to that problem if it is treated to a high enough level and actually goes to the bay or the aquifer,” said Miami Waterkeeper Rachel Silverstein. “But this deal doesn’t require any benefit to the environment or the county.”

FPL had planned on using the reclaimed water for two new reactors, but has indefinitely postponed those projects after cost overruns at similar plants in Georgia and South Carolina forced Westinghouse, the company that designs and builds the reactors, to declare bankruptcy. That left the county with no way to meet the reused water goal.

Sosa also wondered why the agreement failed to include cost estimates and breakdowns.

“Until I have a response specifically to that,” she said, “I cannot enter an agreement with anyone because at the end of the day FPL has to defend FPL and we have to defend the residents of the county.”

In a statement, FPL said it welcomed input from the commissioners and remains “hopeful that they will support this partnership, which would help the County address its wastewater issue, improve the canals and increase renewable energy.”

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich