Florida Power & Light has embarked on a major upgrade project at the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant on South Hutchinson Island that over the next 12 months, is expected to employ 4,000 temporary skilled trades people.
FPL's Extended Power Uprate will boost the electrical output of the plant's twin nuclear reactors by around 11 percent and add 103 megawatts output per reactor without increasing the physical footprint of the plant, according to FPL senior communications adviser Doug Andrews.
That will increase overall output at the plant to more than 1,000 megawatts.
FPL is spending a combined $2.3 billion on uprate projects at the St. Lucie and the Turkey Point (south of Miami) nuclear plants.
The St. Lucie plant undergoes regular planned outages every 18 months to upgrade equipment and reconfigure spent nuclear fuel rods. While typical outages bring in around 1,200 outside contractors to the plant for three or four months, the uprate project will employ twice as many contractors, Andrews said.
In a county where the unemployment rate has hovered around 13 percent for many months, that's extremely good news.
While the jury's out on exactly how many locals will be employed (hiring will be done through outside contractor companies, not by FPL), area restaurants, hotels, motels and travel trailer parks in two counties are brushing off their welcome mats. All 4,000 workers should be here by the end of December, Andrews said.
Jennifer Brennan, assistant manager at the Hurricane Grill & Wings on Jensen Beach Boulevard, is especially excited by the news.
For several years, the restaurant has had special early-morning hours for outage workers coming off the night shift who crave something a little more exciting than eggs for breakfast.
"During outages we open Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:30 a.m.," Brennan said. "During the last outage we had between 100 and 150 workers here on those mornings. We get here at 6 a.m. and there's always a long line of cars waiting for us. "
The Hurricane Grill serves a full menu at that time of day that includes spicy chicken wings and beer.
Talk about the breakfast of champions.
Steve Weaver, who's putting the finishing touches on a complete renovation of the Oceanview Inn on Fort Pierce's South Beach, also is excited.
"I've posted information (about short-term room rentals) on bulletin boards all over the plant. We're looking forward to them coming," Weaver said.
The inn is next to the iconic Archie's Seabreeze bar, which also has a tendency to open early for outage workers.
While FPL and local economic development officials are unsure of exact wage rates, salaries are likely to be relatively generous. The project will require carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, pipe fitters and sheet-metal workers among other trades. Typical union rates for electricians, for instance, can reach $37 an hour including fringe benefits, according to Roger Thomas of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
So this project is a pretty big deal. And so is some of the new equipment to be installed at the plant.
On Sept. 12 in the dead of night, a new main transformer was trucked very slowly from the Port of Palm Beach to Fort Pierce. The truck carrying the transformer was 288 feet long, steered at each end by a tractor unit and the journey took two nights.
The leviathan made it safely around the new roundabout on A1A outside the Harbour Isles condominiums with 4 inches to spare.
A local man, rather worse for wear after a night of drinking, watched the operation from the sidewalk.
"It'll never get around that," he'd declared loudly.
After the convoy successfully cleared the obstacle, the man apologized for his lack of faith.
With this upgrade of the St. Lucie plant, FPL is showing a lot of faith in our area. That should have a whole bunch of us excited for a long time.
Anthony Westbury is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects his opinion. For more on St. Lucie County issues, follow his blog at tcpalm.com/westbury. Contact him at 772-409-1320 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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