WisBusiness: PSC approves Point Beach nuke plant sale

By Brian E. Clark

The state’s Public Service Commission on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for We Energies to sell the Point Beach nuclear plant for nearly $1 billion to FPL Energy Inc. of Florida.

The vote was 2-1, with Commissioner Lauren Azar dissenting. Chairman Dan Ebert and Commissioner Mark Meyer voted for the plan.

For the deal to go forward, the two utilities will have to agree to changes made by the PSC. The commissioners asked that We Energies and FPL agree by Wednesday afternoon to the commission’s alterations.

One of the big changes would give We Energies any potential environmental credits due the nuclear plant in years to come because it emits few gases linked to global warming.

Barry McNulty, a spokesman for We Energies, praised the PSC for letting it sell the nuclear plant. He said the sale could save ratepayers millions of dollars.

And Chairman Ebert said the transaction provides significant economic value to ratepayers, transfers operational risks away from WEPCO customers ensures Wisconsin will continue to have a voice in the operation of the facility in the future.

“The transfer of Point Beach to FPL Energy brings substantial immediate and long-term economic value to ratepayers and will ensure that the plant continues to run safely and at high efficiency for WEPCO customers,” said Ebert.

“The nuclear industry is consolidating. The record in this case demonstrates that there are significant economies of scale brought by fleet operators running these complex units. FPL Energy will bring such expertise and value to the operation of this critical baseload facility.”

The PSC estimates that Wisconsin ratepayers will pay approximately $118 million less as a result of the decision to sell the plant and authorize the use of long-term contracts by We Energies to continue to purchase the plant’s power through 2033.

Additionally, it said We Energies customers will see the return of approximately $440 million decommissioning funds.

The funds remain adequately capitalized to ensure that resources are available to decommission the plant at the end of its useful life, the PSC said.

The commission said both utilities agreed to the PSC’s ongoing role in important future decisions at the plant, including any potential sale to other companies and the decommissioning of the facility.

“These changes to the initial agreement were important to my conclusion that the transaction is in the public interest,” said Commissioner Meyer. “I am confident that, as approved by the Commission, this transaction brings tremendous value to the ratepayers.”

FPL was unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon.

But consumer and environmental groups blasted the PSC for its vote.

In a joint statement, representatives of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB)and Clean Wisconsin said they strongly disagree with the decision to FPL because it is an unregulated subsidiary of an out-of-state utility holding company.

Charlie Higley, CUB executive director, said the sale of Point Beach to an out-of-state corporation is “misguided.”

Higley criticized PSC-imposed “conditions” that he said would “purportedly” bind FPL Energy and any future owner of Point Beach regarding storage of nuclear waste at the reactor and the clean-up of radioactive contamination at the site when the plant ceases to operate.

CUB and Clean Wisconsin both said they believe the conditions will be unenforceable, “which means that FPL Energy or a new owner of Point Beach can pursue their business interests at the reactor without fear of enforcement by the PSC.”

“Transferring control of arguably the most dangerous industry in Wisconsin to a business not regulated by the State defies common sense,” stated Higley. “Point Beach was built to serve the interests of Wisconsin’s energy customers, not the profit interests of an out-of-state company.”

He predicted the sale will lead to higher energy costs for We Energies’ customers, more nuclear pollution, and loss of control over Wisconsin’s nuclear future.