NextEra Sues NEI, Citing Efforts to ‘Distort Electric Energy Markets’
The Nuclear Energy Institute is accused of “extortion,” creating a “false sense of panic,” and “maligning the operations of its members”—among other things.
NextEra Energy has filed a lawsuit against the Nuclear Energy Institute, accusing the trade group of taking “retaliatory action” in response to NextEra’s withdrawal from the organization.
Legal documents dated February 2 accuse the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) of breaching the Personnel Access Data System (PADS) agreement, which allows NextEra-owned companies to access a database of nuclear energy industry workers across the country. But while NextEra is seeking reimbursement for damages related to the database, the lawsuit speaks to a broader rift in the energy sector amid changes to the nation’s resource mix.
NextEra companies, including Florida Power and Light, withdrew from NEI last month over the nuclear trade group’s “new agenda,” the lawsuit states. NextEra Energy operates eight nuclear reactors across the country, but it also holds a diverse portfolio of energy resources, including natural gas, solar and other renewable energies. Entergy, which operates 10 nuclear reactors across the U.S., also chose to leave NEI last month.
The withdrawals come as the nuclear energy industry grapples with an uncertain future. Existing power plants continue to struggle with high maintenance and safety costs, while new reactors face crippling cost overruns, which has triggered a national debate on the ability for nuclear to compete with natural gas, solar and wind, and whether or not it’s worth investing in reliable, low-carbon nuclear power for strategic reasons.
NEI’s decision to support Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to subsidize struggling coal and nuclear plants — which was met with strong opposition from across the energy sector and ultimately rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on January 8, 2018 — sparked tensions with NextEra. The Florida-based energy giant also accused NEI of funding studies intended to generate support for nuclear at the expense of other forms of power. These recent policy changes advocated by NEI represent “bad energy policy” and could harm NextEra’s businesses, the strongly worded lawsuit states.
“NEI recently has been vigorously advocating for irrational and unreasonable policies that would distort electric energy markets,” according to NextEra. “In this, NEI has also funded studies that call into question the reliability and costs of the electric system, attempting to create a false sense of panic and unfairly and incorrectly maligning the operations of its members, including the NextEra Companies.”
The legal document continues:
“NEI, rather than supporting nuclear, has undertaken, both overtly and covertly, efforts to undermine other generation resources — again, implicitly implying and explicitly stating that diversity of generation, rather than making a system more reliable and lower cost, somehow is bad for the electric system. Without qualification, the NextEra Companies and NextEra disagree with this underlying thesis. As large nuclear generators, the NextEra Companies obviously support nuclear energy. But, the NextEra Companies cannot financially, or otherwise, support an organization that fundamentally mispresents the state of grid reliability in this country.”
NextEra claims that NEI revoked its ability to access to PADS, the nuclear industry personnel database, in retaliation for withdrawing from the trade group.
U.S. nuclear plant operators came together in the mid-1990s to standardize the approach for processing of nuclear plant workers through the establishment of PADS, a central records repository containing authorization records for workers. The data system is intended to ensure safety and security at commercial nuclear facilities. According to NextEra, access to the list of qualified nuclear workers is critical ahead of scheduled plant shut downs, when the number of staff on hand can roughly double.
Florida Power and Light’s St. Lucie plant is scheduled for an outage beginning on February 7, 2018, the lawsuits states. NextEra companies have a total of six outages planned in 2018.