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Progress seeks nuclear addition

The company says an enlarged Crystal River nuclear plant will help reduce its use of fossil fuels in the future.

By HELEN HUNTLEY
Published September 23, 2006


Progress Energy Inc. said Friday it wants to expand the capacity of its Crystal River nuclear plant 20 percent to handle customer growth and cut fuel costs.

The $382-million upgrade, which would channel nuclear-powered electricity to more than 100,000 additional homes, is part of Progress' ambitious plan to cut back its reliance on oil and coal, the company's primary and most expensive energy sources. Also in the works is a major renovation of its Bartow Power Plant in St. Petersburg, which is switching from oil to natural gas and expanding its capacity as well. In addition, the company is considering construction of a new nuclear plant.

Progress Energy said it is asking state and federal regulators to approve the Crystal River renovation, which it expects will take place during scheduled refueling outages in 2009 and 2011.

The company estimates the move will save $2.6-billion in fuel costs through 2036. Whether customers' bills actually will decline will depend on what happens to the company's overall fuel costs from all sources.

"This innovative project is another way we are managing the rising costs of fossil fuels used to generate electricity, said Jeff Lyash, chief executive of Progress Energy Florida.

Technological advances make the improvements possible, the company said. The Crystal River nuclear plant currently produces about 900 megawatts of power. The planned equipment changes will take place in two stages, with 40 megawatts of capacity added in 2009 and another 140 in 2011. Together, they will bring power to an additional 110,700 homes.

The project must be approved by the Florida Public Service Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Public Counsel Harold McLean, who represents the state's consumers on utility issues, could not be reached for comment.

Progress Energy officials said they are starting the process now to be sure they will have the equipment available when they need it. Going through the process to win NRC approval is expected to take a year and a half, the company said.

The previously-announced Bartow expansion will cost $435-million and more than double plant capacity from 500 to 1,100 megawatts. That project, which includes construction of a natural gas pipeline underneath Tampa Bay, is scheduled to begin in 2008 and be completed in 2009. It will be financed with a bond issue.

Financing for the nuclear plant upgrade has not yet been determined.

The company has begun looking at potential sites for a new nuclear plant. However, it is still several years away from firmly committing to the project.

Progress Energy said it expects its 1.6-million customer base to grow more than 25 percent in the next 10 years.

Helen Huntley can be reached at hhuntley@sptimes.com or 727 893-8230.

[Last modified September 22, 2006, 23:51:16]


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