HOMESTEAD — Florida Power & Light is challenging a ruling by U.S. District Court Magistrate Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes denying the utility’s motion to dismiss a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed against it last year by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Tropical Audubon Society.
Otazo-Reyes, who heard the motion for dismissal in early August, responded with her denial in late September.
Both organizations are demanding that FPL’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant stop discharging industrial wastewater into Biscayne Bay and the Biscayne Aquifer through its leaky cooling canal system.
The groups are calling on FPL to replace Turkey Point’s 10-mile network of “antiquated” cooling canals with mechanical draft cooling towers that they say would fix the problem.
The cooling canals are generating a hypersaline underground plume that includes ammonia, phosphorus, nitrogen and tritium, which is radioactive but poses little risk at low levels. And this plume is slowly slinking west toward the Biscayne Aquifer, a shallow, coastal aquifer that supplies the region with drinking water.
“Our goal is not to go to trial if we don’t have to, we just want to get FPL to do the right thing here,” SACE advocate Laura Reynolds said. “These cooling canals are a failed experiment. We are asking them to address the whole issue, including abatement of the plume. We think that reuse water could be used in the cooling towers. It’s amazing how much water is being used in the cooling canals.”
SACE Executive Director Stephen Smith remains cautiously optimistic for a hearing next May despite FPL’s recent challenge of the magistrate judge’s decision.
“Once again, FPL has obstructed legal efforts to scrutinize their behavior that has caused repeated and continuous violations of the Clean Water Act by operating an open industrial sewer at Turkey Point, which has led to historic and ongoing discharges to the surface waters of Biscayne Bay,” Smith stated. “These contaminants impact water quality and public health and safety, and FPL needs to take scientifically-sound, aggressive action to address the ongoing pollution and repair the damage that their Turkey Point facility has caused.”
According to SACE and TAS, the canals are contaminating the surface waters of Biscayne National Park as well.
FPL spokeswoman Bianca Cruz said the utility is already taking steps to address the cooling canal system, which includes lowering salt levels of water in the canal and installing recovery wells to draw back the spreading plume.
“FPL is prudent and stringent to minimize costs,” Cruz stated. “As a result of our work, we have already improved conditions within Turkey Point’s cooling canal system. The actions FPL has taken over the last few years have resulted in improved conditions within the CCS, especially in the reduction of temperature and control over salinity and algae. Specifically, approximately 3.7 billion gallons of hypersaline groundwater from beneath the CCS have been extracted and disposed of in the naturally saline boulder zone formation located 3,200 feet below surface. This has resulted already in the removal of 890,000 tons of salt from the Biscayne Aquifer beneath the CCS.”
FPL estimates that the canals discharge at least 600,000 pounds of salt and other contaminants directly into the Biscayne Bay on a daily basis through the cooling canal system.
The Florida Public Service Commission last week heard FPL’s request to recover more than $200 million from its customers to clean up its groundwater contamination from the cooling canals.
The request is in accordance to the Environmental Cost Recovery Clause created by the Florida Legislature in 1993 to provide a mechanism for FPL and other electric utilities in Florida to have customers cover the costs of environmental compliance requirements.
The PSC’s decision, which will be based on staff’s recommendation, is expected to be placed on its Dec. 5 agenda.
“The company has already racked up over $100 million in clean-up costs,” SACE’s Jennifer Rennicks said a press release about the hearing. “An expert in the case has testified that FPL knew or should have known for decades that it was causing a growing underwater contamination plume that was spreading westward toward drinking water wells. The contamination has also spread east into Biscayne National Park.”
Cruz said the $176.4 million figure is based on a 10-year projection.
“FPL expects to incur approximately $176.4 million in operations, maintenance and compliance costs over the period of 2017 through 2026 on the Turkey Point Cooling Canal Monitoring Project,” she said. “Some of the costs are canal-related, others are not.
“Costs for the project will be highest at the outset when construction of major compliance facilities such as the construction of recovery and monitoring wells occurs and should decrease significantly as the project moves forward,” she said.
The work is required by agreements FPL made with Miami-Dade County and the state in order to comply with Florida laws and regulations, Cruz said.
“In 2015, Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management and FPL entered a consent agreement requiring that FPL implement actions to retract the hypersaline groundwater west and north of the FPL property boundary. This (consent agreement) required that FPL conduct further monitoring,” she stated. In 2016, “FPL and Florida Department of Environmental Protection entered a consent order, which includes prevention of the release of canal groundwater to surface water connected to the bay that exceed saltwater standards and to provide mitigation for impacts related to historic operation of the CCS.”
Rennicks says FPL, not its customers, should foot the bill for correcting the cooling canal system.
“Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, along with other parties, will be challenging FPL’s request to recover clean-up costs from customers, because the families and businesses served by FPL should not have to pay for FPL’s mistakes,” she said.