NextEra, NEI in a nasty brawl

Florida-based NextEra Energy and Washington’s Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry’s lobbying group, are in a brawl over the utility’s withdrawal from NEI. NextEra, along with New Orleans-based Entergy, withdrew from NEI in January, dealing a major blow to a trade group under pressure for achieving few results with a large budget.

When the two large nuclear utilities pulled out of NEI, they offered little reasons for their departure.

But that changed this month, when NextEra filed suit accusing NEI of denying the company access to a nuclear industry workers’ database, the Personnel Access Data System, or PADS. In that suit, NextEra claimed NEI denied access to PADS in retaliation for the utility’s departure from the nuclear lobby. According to industry sources, NextEra’s NEI dues amounted to about $3 million per year, or some 20% of total NEI dues income.

NextEra said an inability to access the personnel database would impede its ability to meet Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements for hiring nuclear-qualified workers during outages. The company said, “Many of the additional maintenance workers employed during these refueling outages are highly transient — moving from plant to plant across the country to work during outages. Without access to PADS, nuclear operators would be forced to start from scratch in screening individual applicants for unescorted access, and they would do so without the benefit of consulting information already collected by other nuclear operators in an easily accessible electronic format.”

NEI’s Korsnick

The company said NEI’s actions constituted “extortion,” and payback for the utility’s dropping NEI membership. NextEra said the 1995 agreement that established PADS did not tie NEI membership to the use of the system. NEI President Maria Korsnick disputed that claim, responding in an email to reporters, saying, “When NextEra Energy voluntarily chose to discontinue participating in PADS, it was no longer entitled to participate in PADS.”

In its court filing, NextEra slammed NEI’s support of the Trump administration’s failed proposal at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for special rate treatment for nuclear plants. The company said, “NEI, rather than supporting nuclear, has undertaken, both overtly and covertly, efforts to undermine other generation resources – again, implicitly implying and explicitly stating that diversity of generation, rather than making a system more reliable and lower cost, somehow is bad for the electric system.” In addition to its considerable nuclear generation – eight reactors at five sites — NextEra is a major developer and promoter of renewable energy.

Korsnick said NEI’s support for the policy proposal from Energy Secretary Rick Perry was the result of a “rigorous process for gathering input from member companies to inform our policy positions. On most issues [NEI] does not advocate a position until it has been approved by members of the executive committee. NextEra may not have agreed with NEI’s effort to support the continued operation of existing plants, but our work was guided by the interests of our member companies.”

Entergy, which also dropped its NEI membership, with a dues impact as great as NextEra, said, “While Entergy will no longer be a member of NEI, we have a system in place that replaces PADS.”

— Kennedy Maize

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