Disney’s ability to build power plant could be taken away
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
“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.”
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.
An aerial view June 5 of construction at Disney’s Rivera Resort.
Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant in South Florida.