NextEra sues NEI after refusing to renew trade group membership
- NextEra Energy declined to renew its membership in the Nuclear Energy Institute and is now suing the trade group over access to a nuclear industry personnel database, Personnel Access Data System (PADS). NEI has blocked access to the resource unless NextEra pays close to $900,000.
- NextEra operates eight nuclear reactors but decided to exit the group after it advocated for a now-defunct Department of Energy proposal that would have propped up struggling nuclear and coal generators. NextEra also has a large portfolio of renewable and gas-fired assets that would have been hurt by the proposal.
- NextEra's decision reflects uncertainty in the nuclear industry, where plants face fierce competition from natural gas and stagnant demand, while struggling to control rising operational costs. Louisiana-based Entergy also decided to exit NEI membership.
NextEra and its subsidiaries operate five nuclear plants spread across Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, but its decision to leave NEI reflects the company's split identity: It also owns more than 16 GW of wind and solar and over 700 MW of merchant gas generators.
That portfolio presented NextEra with a choice last fall when the DOE proposed a new rule at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would have provided cost recovery to fuel-secure coal and nuclear generators. NEI supported the rule, saying it would provide an "interim backstop ... to ensure that nuclear generation units are not prematurely retired."
Critics of the proposal, however, said moving the plants to cost recovery could crater power market prices and potentially "blow up" the wholesale market construct. NextEra sided with that argument, signing onto comments with a broad group of other gas, renewable energy and environmental groups asking for FERC to reject the proposal.
In its lawsuit, which is focused on access to the personnel database, NextEra said it was dropping its support of the group because "NEI will use that membership fee, in part, to advocate for policies that are directly at odds with the NextEra Companies' interests and bad for the electricity industry as a whole."
NextEra called NEI's $860,000 bill to access PADS through March an "extortionate and coercive demand." The company has a refueling at its St. Lucie plant in Florida on the horizon, and typically would use the databse to vet workers. The trade group has about 300 members in 17 countries.
In the last five years a half dozen nuclear reactors in the United States have closed permanently, and up to 23 others announced that they plan to retire before their operating licenses run out.
Earlier this month, researchers from the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research concluded low natural gas prices are the primary cause of nuclear plants' struggles in organized markets. Stagnant load "has a relatively small but statistically significant" impact, researchers said.
- Southeast Energy News Two utilities withdraw from leading nuclear energy trade group