Will your bill be higher?

Duke Energy and Tri-County Electric say no

to raising electric rates after Hurricane Michael

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

Several hundred Florida Panhandle residents will once more be feeling the impact of October 2018's Hurricane Michael, as Gulf Power (which services the territory west of Tallahassee) has announced that it will be raising service costs in order to pay for the millions of dollars that the company spent in post-storm repairs.
According to Gulf Power, customers who use their company for lighting and cooling their homes may see their energy bills increase by $8 on average in order to pay for the company's hurricane damaged infrastructure.
While Gulf Power does not service the Jefferson County area, Duke Energy Florida has released its own statement, declaring that it recently filed a plan with the Florida Public Service Commission on Tuesday, April 30, in order to avoid having their consumers pay a rate increase in order to cover Duke Energy's power restoration costs.
During Hurricane Michael, it is reported that Duke Energy paid an estimated $221 million in recovering its damaged lines, poles and infrastructure, with more than 5,500 line and field workers working during the weeks following the hurricane to restore power to Duke Energy's customers.
If Duke Energy's proposal to the Florida Public Service Commission is approved, then the company will be able to apply federal tax reform savings to pay for their storm costs, rather than increasing customer rates to cover repairs.
Duke Energy advises that this approach will save residential customers $6.95 per 1,000 kWh of electricity on a typical monthly bill.
“The Florida Panhandle is still recovering from the damage to homes, businesses, infrastructure and tourism as a result of Hurricane Michael,” said Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy Florida state president. “We appreciate the Office of Public Counsel, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and other consumer advocates who helped find a creative solution to avoid the cost impact of the significant restoration and rebuild work that was unprecedented on our system.”
Hurricane Michael was the first hurricane to require the complete rebuild of three distribution feeders and 34 miles of transmission lines served by Duke Energy Florida.
Community Relations Director Kaitlyn Culpepper at Tri-County Electric Cooperative (TCEC) has also advised that TCEC “has no plans to raise rates or implement any fees as a result of Hurricane Michael.”
The majority of TCEC's service territory was further east than Hurricane Michael impacted, and Culpepper says their service area and power-grid infrastructure fared well, compared to the harder-hit areas west of Tallahassee.
“Annually, we budget and plan for potential storm damage to our system. With the support of FEMA reimbursements, the impact of Hurricane Michael to our infrastructure was within the range of what we prepare for financially,” adds Culpepper.
While both of the energy companies that service Jefferson County residents have advised that they have no plans to raise customer fees, there is currently a bill (SB 796) awaiting Governor DeSantis' signature that will allow utility companies to raise rates in preparation of a future major storm.
The rate-raising will allow companies to prepare for the storm and harden their electrical grid, including moving the power lines under ground.
Experts have estimated that customers may see $4 a month increases on their bill, should utility companies take part in the hardening plan.
“It is in the state’s interest to strengthen electric utility infrastructure to withstand extreme weather conditions by promoting the overhead hardening of electrical transmission and distribution facilities, the undergrounding of certain electrical distribution lines, and vegetation management,” reads SB 796.
Even if Gov. DeSantis does not have place his signature on the bill, the bill and it's permission for raising rates will become law.