TAMPA — After eight years at the helm of Hillsborough County’s dominant utility, Gordon Gillette, CEO of Tampa Electric Co., is retiring Nov. 30. He will be replaced by Nancy Tower, a longtime executive with the utility’s Canadian parent company, Emera Inc.
Tower, 58, joins Tampa Electric at a time its safety practices are under a spotlight. Five of its workers were killed in June while performing a procedure the company knew was dangerous, a Tampa Bay Times investigation found.
Related coverage: Times investigation: Tampa Electric knew the procedure was dangerous. It sent workers in anyway
The incident prompted an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA’s report is due to be released Dec. 29.
"We were and continue to be very concerned for the families, obviously. That’s the first and foremost," Tower said in an interview Monday with the Times. "We are committed to learning from that tragedy and changing what needs to be changed."
Gillette, 57, worked at Tampa Electric for 36 years. Before being appointed as president, he served as the chief financial officer of the utility’s parent company.
"Gordon has played a key role in integrating Tampa Electric into the Emera group of companies, and he is leaving the organization well positioned for the future," Scott Balfour, CEO of Emera, said in a release.
Tower most recently worked as the chief corporate development officer for Emera. She previously held C-suite positions for Canadian branches of Emera. Her focus in Tampa Bay, she said, will be on safety and serving customers’ needs.
"It’s really for me about the culture that we value, which is a strong safety culture, a strong customer culture, strong customer service and a commitment to the environment," she said in an interview.
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The changing of the guards came the same day that regulators approved the utility’s settlement with several consumer and environmental groups to freeze base rates for four years. That means Tampa Electric customers won’t see significant increases in their bills until at least 2021.
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.
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 Tampa Electric’s outgoing CEO 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."
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.
In addition to negotiating the settlement agreement, Tampa Electric’s Gillette also has received high marks for the utility’s recent handling of Hurricane Irma outages.
Duke Energy Florida, on the other hand, was subjected to criticism after it missed a self-imposed deadline of restoring power by the Friday following Irma, drawing significant blowback from its 60,000 powerless customers that day.
Related coverage: Thousands fume as Duke Energy misses deadline to restore power
Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo on Twitter.