FPL, NextEra sue NEI, allege extortion, retaliation

Florida Power & Light and its parent, NextEra Energy, have quit as members of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) trade group – pulling their $3 million annual membership dues, saying being a member was harmful to their interests.

Now the companies are accusing the NEI of extortion and retaliation, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., earlier this month.

FPL and NextEra allege the NEI has retaliated for their leaving the trade group by disallowing the companies access to a personnel database used by the nuclear power industry to screen workers.

After NextEra and FPL notified NEI on Jan. 4 they weren’t renewing their memberships, NEI told the companies they would be cut off from the database on Feb. 4 unless they paid $860,000.

The companies assert in the lawsuit (reviewed by Kallanish Energy) the vast majority of the payment demanded was for membership fees unrelated to the database fees.

NEI president and CEO Maria Korsnick said in a statement last week, “NEI vehemently denies all of the allegations in NextEra’s lawsuit and will vigorously defend our position in court. To call NEI’s approach retaliatory or even suggest the notion of extortion, is both counter-factual and offensive to the good faith effort the offer represents.”

NextEra and FPL also disapprove the direction the NEI has taken in recent years, the Palm Beach Post newspaper reported. The NEI has sought to undermine the production of electricity from sources other than nuclear reactors, the lawsuit states. NEI has claimed the “grid-based electricity supply portfolio in the U.S. is becoming less cost-effective, less reliable and less resilient.”

FPL, which produces 70% of its electricity from natural-gas fired generators, states in the lawsuit such claims are unfounded.

Juno Beach, Fla.-based FPL operates two nuclear reactors in Florida, at its St. Lucie plant on Hutchinson Island and two reactors at its Turkey Point plant south of Miami. NextEra operates nuclear plants in Iowa, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

FPL spokesman Peter Robbins told the Post the company learned it would not be permitted access to the system Personnel Access Data System, known as PADS, it developed a contingency plan to vet and hire the workers for nuclear jobs.

“Initially we believed we would be able to leave NEI and have access to the system,” Robbins told the Post.

But after FPL and NextEra submitted fees to retain access to the database, NEI returned the payments, the lawsuit states. NEI then said it would permit access only if the companies agreed to pay $860,000, the companies decided to sue.

“We made a business decision we thought was in the best interest of us and our customers. They clearly want to retaliate,” Robbins told the Post.

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