Dis­ney’s abil­ity to build power plant could be taken away

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Money - By Gabrielle Rus­son and Gray Rohrer

Mouse has al­ways been pow­er­ful, but who knew it had the right to split atoms?

A 52-year-old state law says Dis­ney World’s gov­ern­ment can build a nu­clear power plant on its prop­erty in Or­lando — an ex­am­ple of the re­sort’s po­lit­i­cal lever­age it had in cre­at­ing the Magic King­dom in 1971.

Dis­ney has no plans to cap­i­tal­ize on that power, though. Its fo­cus is on two so­lar farms on Dis­ney land to gen­er­ate power, said John Classe, ad­min­is­tra­tor of Reedy Creek Im­prove­ment District.

Even so, Dis­ney and nu­clear power have been a hot topic of dis­cus­sion re­cently among some state leg­is­la­tors from Cen­tral Florida, some who want to strip the com­pany of that right.

State Rep. Bruce An­tone is con­sid­er­ing fil­ing a bill this ses­sion that would grant more pro­tec­tions to fire­fight­ers who work for Reedy Creek, Dis­ney’s gov­ern­men­tal agency, while also re­mov­ing the com­pany’s nu­clear op­tion.

It doesn’t make sense for a theme park full of fam­i­lies to also have a nu­clear power plant nearby, said state Sen. Vic­tor Tor­res, D-Kis­sim­mee.

“I don’t think Dis­ney would ever do that, I don’t fore­see that,” Tor­res said. “But I just want to pre­vent any­thing like that from oc­cur­ring — pe­riod.”

Yet, An­tone isn’t so sure the nu­clear pro­hi­bi­tion should hapThe

pen.

“The ques­tion is do we take that op­tion away from them?” said An­tone, D-Or­lando. “I doubt they’ll do that but maybe there’ll be a safer tech­nol­ogy that comes out that deals with nu­clear fis­sion and power plants.”

What­ever leg­is­la­tors de­cide, how­ever, might be moot.

The 1967 state law that es­tab­lished Dis­ney’s quasigov­ern­ment is over­reach­ing since over­sight on where to build a nu­clear power plant now falls on the fed­eral Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, said Eliot Bren­ner, who was the agency’s direc­tor of pub­lic affairs from 2004 to 2016.

It is a long, com­pli­cated and ex­pen­sive process to go through the li­cens­ing process,” Bren­ner said. “It takes time, and it takes money. You have to have re­ally deep pock­ets to buy a re­ac­tor.”

The price tag to build a plant runs in the bil­lion­dol­lar and up range, Bren­ner said.

Two nu­clear re­ac­tors are un­der con­struc­tion in Ge­or­gia, the first new plants in decades, he said.

Florida’s two nu­clear power plants run by util­ity com­pany Nex­tEra En­ergy op­er­ate in St. Lucie County and Turkey Point in Mi­ami-Dade County. Dis­ney al­ready gen­er­ates much of its own power on site with a plant pow­ered in part by nat­u­ral gas.

The 1967 law dates back to when Dis­ney was look­ing build its theme park em­pire on un­de­vel­oped

Cen­tral Florida wet­lands.

“Dis­ney wanted pro­tec­tion from gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion,” said Richard Folgesong, a re­tired Rollins Col­lege pro­fes­sor who wrote about Dis­ney World’s for­ma­tion in his book “Mar­ried to the Mouse.”

“They knew that Florida and the lo­cal com­mu­nity wanted them to come and build their new park. They knew they had the po­lit­i­cal lever­age to get what they wanted,” Foglesong said.

The state cre­ated Dis­ney’s pri­vate gov­ern­ment and gave it the power to build roads and drains, levy taxes, is­sue bonds or have emer­gency ser­vices, things a county gov­ern­ment might do, in the law.

It also al­lowed Dis­ney to look to the fu­ture for other items it could need some­day — such as a nu­clear power plant and an air­port.

As far as Foglesong is aware, Dis­ney never truly con­sid­ered mov­ing for­ward on build­ing a nu­clear power plant, as it would likely be­come a pub­lic re­la­tions headache, he said.

A his­to­rian at the NRC

was un­able to find any in­di­ca­tion that Dis­ney or the Dis­ney-run gov­ern­ment had been in con­tact with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment about the is­sue.

The 1967 law also was writ­ten dur­ing a dif­fer­ent era when politi­cians were more sup­port­ive of nu­clear power, Bren­ner said, point­ing to only 14 years ear­lier Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower gave the “Atoms for Peace” speech.

“We were a rapidly grow­ing coun­try that had power de­mands in­creas­ing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “Re­new­able (en­ergy) was not re­ally part of the pic­ture.”

In re­cent times, Dis­ney has fo­cused more on re­new­able en­ergy and touted its new 270-acre, 50-megawatt so­lar farm along State Road 429.

“We will con­tinue to study and ex­plore re­new­able and sus­tain­able en­ergy op­por­tu­ni­ties to pro­vide ef­fi­cient elec­tric­ity for the District's cus­tomers,” Classe said in a state­ment.

For An­tone, leav­ing the nu­clear power plant op­tion alone could make it eas­ier to push through his pro­posed bill that would make con­tract ar­bi­tra­tion bind­ing for Dis­ney fire­fight­ers through the ap­point­ment of a spe­cial mag­is­trate, he said.

“That’s re­ally what this is all about,” said An­tone, who filed a sim­i­lar bill in 2013.

The Dis­ney fire­fight­ers union are push­ing for the change, con­tend­ing they’re in an un­fair sit­u­a­tion be­cause of Dis­ney’s un­ortho­dox gov­ern­ment, said Reedy Creek Fire­fight­ers As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Tim Strom­snes.

Fire­fight­ers can’t run for of­fice or pick their own can­di­dates for the Dis­ney gov­ern­ing board — only Dis­ney landown­ers picked by the com­pany to serve, Strom­snes said.

“The Reedy Creek board is not elected,” Tor­res said. “There’s no voter ac­count­abil­ity.”

NEARMAPS

Dis­ney has pushed for more so­lar farms in re­cent years, in­clud­ing this Mickey-shaped so­lar panel farm near Ep­cot. This 2016 project was be­tween Walt Dis­ney World and Duke En­ergy.

RED HU­BER/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

An aerial view June 5 of con­struc­tion at Dis­ney’s Rivera Re­sort.

ROBERTO KOLTUN/EL NUEVO HER­ALD

Turkey Point Nu­clear Power Plant in South Florida.

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