FPL bringing in 4,000 workers to increase St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant capacity

HUTCHINSON ISLAND, Fla. -- Florida Power & Light Co. is bringing in about 4,000 workers to the area as it increases the generation capacity at Unit 2 of the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County.

The economic impact is expected to be felt throughout the Treasure Coast, according to chamber of commerce officials.

An FPL official urged the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County and local businesses across the Treasure Coast to take advantage of the opportunity to let the influx of workers know about the goods and services they can offer.

"There's a lot of things that can be done to help these people out," said Jack Hoffman, FPL's licensing manager for the extended power upgrade project.

Indian River County Chamber of Commerce President Penny Chandler said she will be in contact with her counterparts in the other counties to find out about developing some type of package letting workers know about what the area has to offer.

"We certainly want to do what we can to bring some of them to Indian River County," Chandler said.

Tom Vokoun, chairman of the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce board, said the influx helps retailers, hotels, restaurants and other companies.

"It helps the whole community keep going and keep growing," Vokoun said.

Not all 4,000 of the workers are expected to be there at the same time. Instead varying numbers of workers will be needed during different phases of the project.

Hoffman said the unit will be shut down while work is done to increase its generating capacity by 12 percent. Unit 2 will be shut down between August through November during the upgrade, but Hoffman said workers already are starting to come in as the project gears up.

FPL did a similar upgrade of Unit 1 between November 2011 and the middle of April.

Linda Cox, president and chief executive officer of the St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce, said the workers coming in for the earlier project are part of the reason for the increased revenue brought in this year from the county's bed tax.

Workers for the second project will be coming in during the slower season. Cox said it is great for local hotels and restaurants anytime additional patrons come during this period.

Hoffman said work will be going on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, meaning some workers will be ending shifts early in the morning and looking for places to eat and wind down then as well as at other times. One nearby restaurant, for instance, last year offered early morning dinners for people working the overnight shift.

The Hutchinson Island facility is in a unique position compared to the other 102 nuclear reactors in the country in that it is closer to the region's urban area, Hoffman said. For the most part, the other plants are in more rural areas away from population centers.

The increased capacity being added to the two Hutchinson Island units and two units at Turkey Point in Homestead will be about equal to what another medium-sized power plant could produce, according to FPL officials.

While there reportedly is excess generating capacity in the state, FPL officials said the capacity at the four nuclear units is being added to handle future demand as well as increase efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to FPL, the projects are expected to save customers an estimated $3.8 million billion on fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and foreign oil over the upgrades' lifetime.

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