The five-member Florida Public Service Commission yesterday unanimously approved $140 million in rate increases for Progress Energy. The increases will go toward the cost of replacement fuel needed due to the failure of Progress’ Crystal River nuclear plant, which shut down after an upgrade caused cracks to form in the reactor containment walls.

Critics of the decision, including state Sen. Mike Fasano, argued that the company’s customers shouldn’t be forced to foot the bill for what was arguably the fault of Progress Energy. Greg Giordano, an aide to Fasano, says that Fasano “believes that due to Progress Energy’s poor handling of the damaged plant, and its questionable decisions regarding how to repair it, the customers should not be forced to bear the burden of paying for its alternative fuel needs.”

The Public Service Commission is expected to conduct hearings into the damage at the plant in 2012, in order to further determine how it happened and how Progress Energy handled the subsequent repairs. As recently as July, monitors have detected cracks in the reactor shield at the company’s Crystal River nuclear plant, leading many to believe that tearing it down and building a new one might be a better alternative than simply repairing it. The costs of those repairs have been estimated to be at least $2.5 billion.

The average bill of the affected customers will increase by $3.85, beginning in January. In addition to the hike in charges, Progress Energy’s Florida customers will also be paying for the advance nuclear cost recovery for a planned nuclear plant in Levy County.

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