By Jim Saunders
TALLAHASSEE — State regulators Tuesday signed off on plans that will lead to millions of utility customers seeing higher electric bills in April because of hurricane costs and higher-than-expected natural gas prices last year.
The Florida Public Service Commission approved a series of proposals that will increase the amounts of money that Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, and Tampa Electric Co. will collect from consumers.
Utilities are generally allowed to recover costs related to hurricane preparation and recovery and power-plant fuel. Utilities got hammered in 2022 by Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole and spiraling natural-gas prices.
While projected natural-gas prices have come down in 2023, the bill increases will reflect last year’s problems.
The commission took a step Tuesday to soften the blow to Duke customers by spreading out recovery of fuel costs over 21 months rather than a previously proposed 12 months. That will significantly decrease the additional costs on monthly bills, though customers will have to pay for a longer period of time.
FPL and Tampa Electric had earlier proposed recouping the fuel costs over 21 months.
In addressing rates, utilities rely on a benchmark of residential customers who use 1,000-kilowatt hours of electricity a month. Here are how the changes approved Tuesday would affect such residential customers, according to the Public Service Commission and the utilities:
— Because of a merger with the former Gulf Power, FPL has two sets of rates. FPL residential customers who use 1,000-kilowatt hours of electricity a month currently pay $129.59. That amount will go to $144.38 in April. But FPL projects such bills will go down to $139.95 in May because of lower-than-expected gas prices in 2023.
Former Gulf Power customers in Northwest Florida who use 1,000-kilowatt hours of electricity will see their bills go from the current $159.79 to $163.29 in April. FPL projects they will pay $158.86 in May.
— Duke residential customers who use 1,000-kilowatt hours currently pay $165.55, which will go to $171.83 in April.
— Tampa Electric customers who use 1,000-kilowatt hours currently pay $146.72, which will go to $161.13 in April.
In a news release, Tampa Electric said natural-gas prices tripled between 2020 and 2022. Natural gas is the dominant source of fuel for the state’s power plants.
All three of the utilities also mobilized large numbers of workers to prepare for Hurricane Ian and to restore electricity after the Category 4 storm hit the state.
“We are proud to provide great value to our customers every day, and we worked hard to reduce the impact of these unforeseen events,” Archie Collins, president, and chief executive officer of Tampa Electric, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “We encourage customers to use our many free programs to better manage electricity use, which can lead to lower bills. If more help is needed, we can provide information on additional options.”
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