RALEIGH — The largest U.S. electricity company said Tuesday it will permanently close a Florida nuclear power plant after botched repairs and use $835 million from an insurance settlement to refund consumers forced to pay for higher-cost replacement power.
But Charlotte-based Duke Energy also said it will seek to recoup from customers its $1.65 billion investment in the Crystal River Nuclear Plant, about 70 miles north of Tampa. The company said it is starting a closing process that may take 60 years before the nuclear site is decontaminated and dismantled and considering whether to build a new, natural-gas-fueled power plant to replace the power lost.
The nuclear plant operated by Duke Energy subsidiary Progress Energy Florida has been shut down since 2009, when its concrete containment building cracked during a maintenance and upgrade project. A 2011 repair attempt resulted in new cracks in other parts of the containment structure. Estimates put repair costs at between $1.3 billion and $3.4 billion.
The federal operating license for the nuclear plant, which began operating in 1977, was due to expire at the end of 2016, meaning Duke Energy would have had to wage a regulatory fight to extend its authority to operate.
“We believe the decision to retire the nuclear plant is in the best overall interests of our customers, investors, the state of Florida and our company,” Duke Energy chairman and chief executive Jim Rogers said in a statement.
Progress Energy Florida provides electricity to more than 1.6 million Florida customers, including the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater and the area surrounding Orlando.