An article in yesterday's editions of The Washington Post implied that a Potomac Electric Power Co. spokesman said the utility has a contract for uranium at prices than prevailing prices. Another Pepco spokesman yesterday, while not denying that the contract price is lower than the price the utility could sell the fuel for on the open market, said the utility made no statement about the price terms in the contract. It did say that the sizeable costs of stopping construction of its Douglas Point nuclear power plant would be more than offset "by the company's favorable purchase of nuclear fuel supplies."
Query: Should the customers of a public utility be asked to pay for a nuclear power plant that may not be built?
The Maryland Public Service Commission is preparing to challenge the Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) on just this point.
At issue is $35 million which Pepco spend on engineering and environmental studies for a nuclear power plant at Douglas Point - a plant that utility announced earlier this month it had decided to postpone indefinitely. Another $30 million, Pepco officials say may be needed to terminate the project.
Of the money already spent, more than $18 million has been shown on Pepco's balance sheet in such a way as to allow the utility to earn a return on it. Some people - notably Maryland Commissioner Micheal D. Barnes - think these profit should be credited to customers, since the project has been dropped - at least for now.
"It is my hope that action (against Pepco) is imminent," Barnes said. Asked whether the action will take the form of a show cause order, Barnes replied he could not say for sure.
The Maryland Action Coalition, a consumers group, has demanded that the commission investigate the costs of the Douglas Point project and that profits earn on the project be refunded to Pepco customers.
A Pepco spokesman denied that the utility's costumers had lost anything as a result of the projected nuclear plant on the Potomac River, 25 miles south of Washington. The cost of the plant, he said, would be more than offset by uranium supplies which were purchased at prices well below what they are today. Whether or not these supplies are ever used by the utility itself, Pepco retains the right to them and could sell them.