County Administrator Randy Oliver on Thursday told federal energy officials that more must be done to mitigate the loss of jobs and the huge hit to the county’s tax base after Duke Energy closed its nuclear power plant in 2009.
Specifically, Oliver asked a committee to be formed to provide relief and planning “to economically jumpstart this economy again.”
Oliver made the comments during a meeting hosted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to discuss communications going forward between the community and Duke Energy during its decommissioning of the power plant.
Oliver said Citrus County lost about 31 percent of its tax base when the plant closed and the high-paying jobs lost devastated the economy.
“We’ve been fortunate we’ve been able to rebuild our financial house,” Oliver said. “But our financial house is not what it was.”
No decision was reached on Oliver's suggestion because it was beyond the scope of the meeting. But Oliver’s comments, along with others, will be part of a best practices report the NRC will send to Congress next year.
Duke spokeswoman Heather Danenhower said the company continues to be an economic stimulator because of the new natural gas plant built on-site.
That facility generated more than $600 million in economic benefits during construction and created about 3,000 temporary jobs, she said. And the new station will provide the community $13 million annually in economic benefits during the station’s 35-year operational life, she added.
Oliver said the new facility helps but cannot make up for the loss of quality jobs lost and the hit to the tax base.
Getting the word out
The NRC has hosted 11 meetings across the nation in areas where a nuclear plant is being decommissioned.
The purpose of these meetings is to get feedback from communities that have a plant in the midst of being decommissioned and to discuss the role that locals - either through a citizen’s advisory board or other such entity - should be involved in the process.
On Thursday, it was Crystal River’s turn.
About 40 people attended the meeting at the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce building in Crystal River.
Duke in May announced it will decommission the plant in 2027 — almost 50 years sooner than originally scheduled.
Danenhower said the company chose not to go with a citizens’ advisory board (CAB) because it wasn’t the best fit for Citrus County. Such a board is supposed to act as a go-between between the plant and the community.
Danenhower said Duke instead created an informal community stakeholders group.
“Our outreach plans use a variety of communications channels that stakeholders identified as most valuable,” she said. “During the last six years, we have provided a total of 117 opportunities.”
Bruce Watson, NRC reactor decommissioning project manager, agreed that each community handles communications differently and there is nothing wrong with Duke’s decision.
Most people who spoke agreed that Duke has been forthcoming and transparent in communicating to the public.
"I have zero complaints," said chamber President/CEO Josh Wooten.