THE ISSUE: The stranded nuclear plant.

OUR OPINION: Shuttered nuclear plant still impacts economy, but don’t expect it.

One of the largest economic blows Citrus County has ever endured came when Duke Energy took over the Progress Energy Crystal River plant and moved to decommission the nuclear power plant. Duke decided the Crystal River nuclear plant was not worth restarting after Progress Energy botched its internal repair efforts.

The end result was that 500 high-paying jobs at the nuclear plant were eliminated. Citrus County immediately saw a drain as those nuclear employees were transferred to other energy sites around the nation.

The loss was more than just the income from those high paid employees. It was that entire families left Citrus County as we struggled through the unpleasantness of the Great Recession. Many of the employee spouses had solid careers in the community and their children were enrolled in our school system.

As those families left, we felt an economic and a social drain. Little League volunteer coaches moved away. Church attendance was impacted. Libraries had fewer visits. Restaurants had empty seats. Neighborhoods had many empty houses.

The loss of property tax dollars to the county offices was a short-term disaster. The loss of the community minded power company employees is a hurt that will never go away.

The above conversation is relevant because the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would force utilities to help communities that were affected by stranded nuclear waste and shuttered facilities. Since the federal government does not have an official storage site, the Crystal River nuclear waste is still stored on site and will be for many years to come.

Under the proposed legislation, Citrus County could be eligible for an annual payment of $9 million to offset the economic impact of storing the nuclear waste and the loss of jobs.

County administrator Randy Oliver believes the impact is real and Citrus deserves some type of assistance. But Sen. Wilton Simpson, our representative in the state senate, doesn’t believe the bill has any chance of gaining support in Congress, so we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

During a Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing two weeks ago in Crystal River, Duke officials pointed out that they have made a significant economic impact on Citrus County since they closed the nuke plant. Two new gas plants were constructed in Crystal River and those generate about

$13 million annually in taxes.

Administrator Oliver still believes the issue is worth pursuing — and he is right. The opinions of people in Citrus County aren’t really going to carry a lot of weight in what happens in Washington. Congress is going to do what the leadership tells it to do.

In the meantime, Duke Energy can continue to build bridges with the Citrus County community by taking a leadership role in growing the local economy and by being involved in community improvements.

Duke has certainly helped. The expansion of its energy facilities and the support of the Holder industrial park improve the local economy.

The help with the Save Crystal River project to clean up our waterways with the Rock Star grass is also helpful. Duke can continue to show it supports the community where its largest energy site — including the idle nuclear plant — resides by making additional contributions to community efforts that improve our quality of life. Duke can also help by guiding local economic development leaders on how to secure new higher paying jobs for Citrus County.

As for receiving direct financial support from some Congressional action — our expectations are pretty low.

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