THE ISSUE: County manager says more needs to be done to offset loss of nuclear plant.
OUR OPINION: Event forced the county to refocus economic development efforts.
At a recent meeting with federal officials to discuss decommissioning issues at the now-closed Crystal River Nuclear Plant, County Administrator Randy Oliver told officials that more must be done to mitigate the loss of jobs and hit to the county tax base caused by the plant closing.
His presentation raises interesting questions about what the county needs to do as it refocuses its economic development efforts and what role the power company should take in those efforts.
When the plant closed in 2013, it was a watershed event for Citrus County, where jobs and tax from the revenue had been a major economic driver in the county since Florida Power first started developing the plant site north of Crystal River in the 1950s.
After the first two coal plants on the site were finished, construction of the nuclear plant began in the early 1970s, and eventually the plant provided more than 500 well-paid permanent jobs and another 400-500 contract and/or temporary jobs in the community.
With the nuclear plant and four coal plants operating, the site also paid about a third of the total ad valorem taxes collected in the county.
But this changed when the plant containment was damaged during a major refurbishing of the nuclear plant, creating an estimated $1 billion repair cost. The economic impact of this situation helped lead to Duke purchasing Progress Energy and ultimately making the economic decision to close the plant rather than repairing it.
Since the plant closing was announced, Duke has provided the services of a consultant to help Citrus County map an economic development plan, and later has built a modern gas-fired plant that provided about 3,000 temporary construction jobs and about 50 permanent jobs and the plant will pay an estimated $4 million in taxes annually.
While the economic assistance and new gas plant are welcome and help offset the impact of the plant closing, they are not on the same order of magnitude as the economic impact of the closed nuclear and coal plants.
This is why one Crystal River resident and a former nuclear plant employee has argued that there should be some type of economic reparation paid to the community.
While we can understand the sentiment, we are also aware that Citrus County has benefited from the bargain it made with Florida Power over 50 years ago when the plant was first sited. This was an economic home run for the county that has been a factor for all of these years.
But Duke is not responsible for our economic future. They have been and we hope they will continue to be active partners in our economic development, but it is still up to the county to chart and implement plans to continue economic growth.
The plant closing has forced us to refocus our economic development plans. Our economic future will be determined by how well we make and implement these plans, not by whether we receive additional support from Duke Energy or any other company.