Lawmaker wants state auditors to dig into JEA's Plant Vogtle deal

State senator calls deal 'alarming example of potential mismanagement'

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A nuclear power plant deal that JEA made a decade ago has raised the eyebrows of a Florida lawmaker, who is calling on state auditors to look into the deal and why JEA agreed to it.

As first reported by the Florida Times-Union, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, who represents Indian River County and the southern half of Brevard County in Central Florida, requested that the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability investigate JEA's financial and operational decisions.

Mayfield, vice chairwoman of the Senate's committee on government oversight and accountability, said “many factors” prompted the request, but specifically cited the Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant deal JEA made in 2008.

The plant, which is still under construction in Georgia, has been in financial turmoil for years.

JEA agreed to shoulder 10 percent of the debt from the expansion of the plant and then to purchase for 20 years, 10 percent of the power the plant generates.

At the time of the initial agreement, natural gas prices were skyrocketing, and it was considered a good deal.

READ: Mayfield's letter requesting study of JEA finances

But Mayfield points out that the original expected cost -- $140 million -- has ballooned to closer to $2.5 billion.

She called it “one alarming example of potential mismanagement.”

JEA interim CEO Aaron Zahn told the Times-Union that the utility welcomes the review but disputed how the lawmaker characterized the deal.

A statement from the Jacksonville Mayor's Office pointed out that Mayor Lenny Curry has raised similar concerns about the nuclear plant deal.

“Mayor Curry has shared a concern that the Plant Vogtle agreements put risk on the backs of JEA customers and Jacksonville taxpayers,” Chief of Staff Brian Hughes said. “We received Senator Mayfield's letter, forwarded it to JEA leaders, and will be replying that the city encourages JEA to fully cooperate with her inquiry. Senator Mayfield is a respected leader in the Legislature, so we welcome her oversight on behalf of taxpayers and the people of northeast Florida.”

Mayfield requested that the auditors study the revenues, expenditures, administrative costs, bond agreements, and contract and employment records overall and also with a focus on the Plant Vogtle deal. She wants a report submitted to the Florida Legislature by Feb. 1.

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