‘A devastating blow’ - FOX 13 News

‘A devastating blow’

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The Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant in Citrus County will close permanently, Duke Energy announced Tuesday. The plant has been off-line since 2009 because of a cracked containment wall.

"The economics of fixing the facility, as opposed to just retiring the facility just didn't make sense for our customers and our shareholders," Duke Energy Spokesman Sterling Ivey told FOX 13.

The nuclear plant employs 600 people. Some will be placed in other positions or transferred to other plants, but many will eventually lose their jobs.

Citrus County Commission Chairman Joe Meek says this is a significant blow to the community.

"It will have a drastic effect, from a jobs standpoint, an employment standpoint, and from a tax revenue standpoint," Meek said.

Tax revenue from the Crystal River plant makes up 26 percent of Citrus County's annual budget. The county stands to lose potentially $9 million in tax dollars with the shutdown. It could mean a drastic impact on services.

"From a county standpoint, that means everything from police, fire, EMS, parks, libraries, the whole gamut," Meek said.

Meek says Citrus County must diversify its tax revenue sources. He says the county will also soon begin a very detailed budget process where all options will be on the table, and property tax hikes and fees are a real possibility.

"What that is is a fee for each parcel in the property, instead of it just being based on the value of your property. It's a fee per parcel. It's a way of spreading out the tax burden across everybody. Everybody pays the same amount," explained Meek

But Commissioner Scott Adams says he doesn't know if he'd support a tax increase.

"There's four other commissioners that could feel differently, but I think what I hear from the overall general public (is that) they're very concerned about tax increases and they want to see government tighten its belt," said Adams. "Before I choose to elect to increase any taxes, I want to see signs of government accountability and restraints put into place."

Duke Energy wants to build a new natural gas plant and Citrus County is a possible site.

"It makes good economic sense for us. There's transmission. There's facilities here for us to locate a site," said Ivey. "We're also looking at Levy County, Suwannee County, and down in Anclote Key."

Meek says he's committed to working with Duke Energy to continue their legacy in Citrus County.

In a statement released Tuesday, Rep. Rich Nugent called the news a "devastating blow."

"For the six hundred families who are directly affected by Duke Energy's decision, this is going to be a devastating blow," he said. "But the economic impact of the decision goes far beyond just the workers employed at the plant. The plant has been a key economic engine in this community for thirty years and all of Citrus County will be affected in a very real way."

A 2011 repair attempt resulted in new cracks in other parts of the containment structure. Estimates put repair costs at between $1 billion and $3.4 billion. The company will use $835 million from an insurance settlement to refund consumers forced to pay for higher-cost replacement power.

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.

Two other nuclear plants remain operational in Florida: FPL's St. Lucie and Turkey Point plants, both in South Florida.

On Tuesday night, Citrus County residents were talking about life after the Crystal River nuclear plant closes for good.

"I think that our economy is really going to go down and it's going to influx on the gas stations, the schools, the mom and pops. Everyone is going to be affected by this change," said Debbie Ressler.

The closure stops the financial bleeding for Duke Energy. Repairing cracks will cost more than is financially viable for the business.

However the facility accounts for 26 percent of the tax base in Citrus County. Not only will its retirement affect county services, but it's already cost the citizens money spent simply trying to figure out how salvagable the plant is.

"They also have had to pay higher taxes along with maintenance, and of course the maintenance that they did do to the plant, of course we found out that was a debacle. All that has been paid not by the stockholders, not by the company, but by the rate payers," said State Representative Mike Fasano.

People who live here fear they will keep paying for the company's failure once the jobs run out and people have less money to spend. It's considered a devastating blow to a community accustomed to the jobs and tax revenue from this nuclear plant.

"We fully understand there's going to be an impact on the community and that's why we're committed to working with our employees to make sure that those who can stay on as we decommission this nuclear plant," said spokesperson Sterling Ivey.

Eventually, many of the 600 jobs and a quarter of the region's tax dollars generated by the plant will vanish.

Citizens voiced fears of a declining domino effect on the local economy at a small town hall meeting in Inverness.

"I think that our economy is really going to go down and it's going to influx on the gas stations, the schools, the mom and pops. Everyone is going to be affected by this change," Ressler said.

Others understand the bottom line of business.

"They're business people. They had to make a business decision based on what they had to do for their investors," said Winston Perry.

"We are disappointed in the decision to retire the plant. However, we are committed to work with Duke into the future," said Citrus County Commission Chairman Joe Meek.

In fact Duke is looking to build a new natural gas plant somewhere in the state. Citrus County leaders are going to be fighting to convince the company to build that plant in this area. It's a ray of hope on a very disappointing day for this community. That decision is expected by the end of the year.

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