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Regulators approve Tampa Electric base rate freeze, solar push

By Malena Carollo
The Florida Public Service Commission approved a settlement Monday between Tampa Electric Co. and several consumer and environmental groups to freeze base rates for four years and outline the utility's solar energy commitment. | [Times file photo]

TALLAHASSEE — Good news for Tampa Electric Co. customers: Monthly bills won’t significantly increase until at least 2021.

Regulators today approved a settlement between the utility and several consumer and environmental groups that freezes base rates for four years. In exchange, Tampa Electric is allowed to recoup the cost of building 600 megawatts of solar power over the same period.

"We looked at (Tampa Electric’s) operations for months and we felt like it was something — with some belt tightening and cost control — that they could manage," Charles Rehwinkel, attorney with the Office of Public Counsel, said. The counsel advocates on behalf of consumers.

Related coverage: Rate hikes ahead: Duke Energy seeks 8.5 percent, Tampa Electric a more modest 1 percent bump

The average monthly bill for Tampa Electric customers is expected to be around $106 per 1,000 kilowatt hours, the average monthly energy use for a home.

Consumers will still see a small bump on their bills once the utility begins collecting for the four parts of its solar projects, amounting to just over $1 more per 1,000 kilowatt hours each month for each phase of the project. The first rate adjustment for the solar projects is expected to be addressed Sept. 1, 2018.

The settlement also protects consumers’ bills from any increases that could occur from any future tax rate changes that would affect the utility.

Party to the agreement are the Office of Public Counsel, Florida Industrial Power User’s Group, Florida Retail Federation, Federal Executive Agencies and West Central Florida Hospital Utility Alliance.

The Office of Public Counsel’s Rehwinkel credited outgoing Tampa Electric CEO Gordon Gillette with pushing the deal across the finish line after lengthy negotiations.

"At the end of that meeting we thought we weren’t going to get a deal done," Rehwinkel said at the meeting. "But the next day by phone we finished this deal, and I think it was all due to his leadership."

Related coverage: TECO announces Gordon Gillette’s retirement, names new CEO

What the agreement doesn’t cover is fuel cost recovery, environmental cost recovery or storm-related cost recovery. Tampa Electric — and Duke Energy Florida — are expected to file for Hurricane Irma-related recovery cost requests by early 2018.

Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo on Twitter.