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Hillsborough County citizens call on Florida PSC to reject TECO rate increase proposal

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Hillsborough County citizens call on Florida PSC to reject TECO rate increase proposal

Jun 13, 2024 | 3:41 pm ET
By Mitch Perry
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Hillsborough County citizens call on Florida PSC to reject TECO rate increase proposal
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Hillsborough County Commissioners and Democratic candidate for Congress Pat Kemp speaking outside of the PSC hearing in Brandon on June 13, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Perry/Florida Phoenix)

The cost of living in Florida has increased dramatically in recent years when it comes to property insurance, auto insurance, and now, for some residents, the price for electricity.

In Hillsborough County, the average Tampa Electric (TECO) bill has gone up more than 50% between 2018 and 2023, the Tampa Bay Times has reported.

And with TECO representatives now asking the Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve a series of rate increases that would boost revenues by more than $1 billion over the next three years, local citizens said they’ve had enough — which is why about two dozen of them protested before the PSC’s scheduled meeting on Thursday at the Brandon campus of Hillsborough Community College east of Tampa.

“For the past year, we have been calling on the Hillsborough County Commission to oppose TECO rate hikes, and the fact that we are here today is testament that community organizing works,” said Brooke Ward, senior Florida organizer with Food and Water Watch.

“Because for the first time in 15 years, TECO customers have the opportunity to speak in person in district in opposition to Tampa Electric rate hikes. Tampa Electric customers pay the third highest energy bills in the country; in fact, TECO has raised rates at twice the rate of inflation. This is an issue of corporate greed, not corporate need. And that is why we are here today. To say, ‘No more rate hikes.’”

On February 1, TECO CEO and President Archie Collins wrote to the PSC that the company anticipated requesting a net incremental base rate revenue increase of between approximately $290 million to $320 million for 2025 “with subsequent year, asset specific base rate adjustments of about $100 million and $70 million in 2026 and 2027, respectively, to recover the costs of specific assets the company plans to place in service to serve customers during those years.”

All told, TECO is asking to collect more than $1.1 billion over the three years from its 840,000 customers.

Organizers at Thursday’s protest said that, if approved, the rate increases would boost the average monthly residential bill to at least $160 next January — an increase that they say amounts to more than $200 more annually per household.

According to information provided by TECO spokesperson Cherie Jacobs, because other portions of the average customer’s bill are expected to drop, the base-rate adjustment is expected to have “only a modest net impact on customer bill.”

If approved as filed for 1,000 kilowatt-hours of use, a residential customer’s total bill in January 2025, she said, would be 3% higher than what the customer paid during the first half of this year, or $5, to $148.15 a month.

“We know that for some customers, even a small change in their electric bill can add to their hardship,” Jacobs said in an email. “We want these customers to know help is available, and we can help connect them to resources.”

But Ward said that when TECO’s rate increases come into effect next year, “the average customer will be paying 62% more than they were five years ago.”

Political issue

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp is running to be the Democratic nominee this fall for Florida’s Fifteenth Congressional District, now held by Republican Laurel Lee. She said Hillsborough County residents were suffering from having to pay higher energy bills.

“I’m going to ask the Public Service Commission to not allow this rate increase, because there’s no reason that the residents of Hillsborough County should be paying some of the highest rates in the nation when TECO is making record profits,” she said at a press conference moments before the hearing began.

In addition to holding a public hearing to hear TECO’s energy rate increase proposal, the PSC held field meetings in Citrus and Pinellas counties on Wednesday for citizens to weigh in on a proposal by Duke Energy Florida to raise its base rates. Duke says the request would produce average annual increases of approximately 4% of a customer’s bill between 2025 and 2027.

Bradley Marshall is an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm with offices in Tallahassee and Miami. He said that TECO, unlike Duke, wants to weight rate increases toward residential customers compared to big-businesses.

“They’re using a completely different cost of service methodology that is driving residential bills through the roof,” he said of TECO on Thursday.

“It’s driven them past Duke to become the most expensive investor-owned utility in the state, to be the third highest in the nation, out of 149 utilities with more than 100,000 residential customers. If this proposal goes through, that’s just going to keep going up, it seems to me that TECO is determined to make their residential bills the most expensive in the nation. “

But Jacobs noted that this month, “Tampa Electric lowered bills for the second time this year because of a decline in fuel prices and other factors. In total, these reductions will save customers nearly $25 a month for the rest of the year, or a total of $175.”

The Public Service Commission says customers can go to its website to provide comments.