Florida's largest power company received the go-ahead from state officials Tuesday to construct two nuclear reactors in South Florida, a project vehemently opposed by officials in several cities in Miami-Dade County.
Gov. Rick Scott and the three members of the Florida Cabinet voted Tuesday in favor of a plan that would allow Florida Power & Light to add nuclear generators to its existing Turkey Point facility near Homestead. The project would add approximately 2,200 megawatts of power, enough for about 750,000 homes.
The vote also gives the utility permission to erect nearly 90 miles of new power lines to carry electricity from the plant, including lines that will skirt the Everglades National Park.
The project is far from a done deal. A decision by federal regulators who must still evaluate the $12 billion to $18 billion project is years away, and it would probably be at least 10 years before the plant started operating.
But the approval from Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam still marks a milestone since other recent efforts to expand nuclear power in the state have been abandoned due to cost concerns and regulatory hurdles.
Florida Power & Light officials say adding additional nuclear units to their existing plant will benefit consumers while avoiding the emission of greenhouse gases.
Putnam called the project a "significant expansion of a nuclear project that I think does have great potential for our state."
The vote came swiftly, and with little debate, despite a contentious two-hour hearing in which mayors and city attorneys from several Miami-Dade cities blasted the proposal, especially the new transmission lines that would stand more than 100 feet tall in many places. Utility company officials agreed to limit pole sizes in the city of Coral Gables and said it would not begin installing the lines until the utility received federal permits.
South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard said residents there are strongly opposed to new power lines, and he predicted the decision would hurt Scott's re-election bid in November.
"He's just lost my city," Stoddard said. "We have Republicans who will vote against this man because of what he did today." Scott is Republican.
Victoria Mendez, an attorney with the city of Miami, said city officials would immediately appeal the decision to a state appeals court. Mendez argued that the governor, his Cabinet members and an administrative law judge who heard the utility's proposal did not correctly weigh all the information concerning the project.
Both Bondi and Scott contended that under Florida's complex power-plant-siting law they had a "limited" role in reviewing the project. An administrative law judge spent eight weeks reviewing information before issuing recommendations that the plant be approved. The project was also approved by state utility regulators at the Public Service Commission.
Opponents, however, insisted there were grounds to reject the proposal and send it back to the judge.
Scott did not discuss the merits of the project during the hearing, but when asked why he voted for the project, he said he was "glad" that Florida Power & Light still planned to work with local communities to resolve ongoing opposition to the project.