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COVID-19 utility rate hikes could soon be on the horizon

Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 4:49 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Public Service Commission has allowed Gulf Power, one of Florida’s five investor-owned electric utility companies, to start tacking COVID-19 related costs. 

The approval could be used to increase rates in the future and other power companies are considering following Gulf’s lead.

“Personal protective equipment or scanning devices to check temperatures. Things like that, but also the biggest portion of it is what is called ‘bad debt’, which is uncollected customer bills,” said Gulf Power spokesperson Sarah Gatewood.

That’s why Gulf Power asked the Public Service Commission for the ability to track those losses. 

“So that we may come back in the future and possibly ask for cost recovery,” said Gatewood.

The request was approved, but J.R. Kelly with the Office of Public Counsel worries tracking COVID costs will result in higher rate hikes if they’re requested.

“Instead of getting a $1,000 increase, they’d get $1,000 plus,” said Kelly.

Kelly said at least two other companies have also asked to track COVID costs and he expects more will follow.

“Gulf Power got it. If the commission ends up giving it to Peoples Gas and ends up giving it to Utilities, Inc. of Florida, the wastewater utility, why wouldn’t the other utilities come in and ask for this?” said Kelly.

We reached out to other energy providers and asked if they plan to follow Gulf Power’s lead. 

TECO and FPL said they don’t at this time, but Duke Energy said it is reviewing the option.

“Duke Energy Florida (DEF) has been experiencing effects from COVID-19. DEF has not been disconnecting customers for non-payment and has been waiving certain customer fees. It also has incurred some incremental costs related to additional personal protective equipment to protect its employees while still providing reliable electric service. We are monitoring those impacts to determine whether to make any filing with the Florida Public Service Commission,” said Duke Energy Spokesperson Ana Gibbs.  

These requests won’t immediately hit your wallet, but potential rate increases could be seen a year or two down the line.

In the meantime, power companies want customers to reach out if they can’t pay their bills.

“So we can try and come up with other solutions that would avoid any bad debt,” said Gatewood.

The Office of Public Counsel has requested the PSC reconsider its decision to allow Gulf Power to track its COVID costs. 

It expects the issue to come up in the commission’s September or October agenda.

Copyright 2020 WCTV. All rights reserved.

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