Duke Energy customers: Save on Irma costs, shell out for solar

Duke Energy Florida customers' bills won't go up because of Hurricane Irma thanks to a new tax break. But they will likely go up because of a new solar panel tariff. Pictured is Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Duke Energy Florida customers' bills won't go up because of Hurricane Irma thanks to a new tax break. But they will likely go up because of a new solar panel tariff. Pictured is Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published January 24 2018
Updated January 24 2018

ST. PETERSBURG ó Monthly bills for Duke Energy Florida customers are up in the air once again.

The good news: If a Wednesday filing with regulators is approved, customers wonít pay any of the projected $5.20 per month for hurricane-related costs.

The bad news: They likely will pay an extra to-be-determined amount as a result of a tariff the Trump administration imposed Monday on imported solar panels, the utility said.

"The imposition of this tariff will increase customer costs," Duke spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said in a statement. "Once more details are known, we will evaluate projects in Florida to be sure they are executed consistent with our state rules and with our customerís best interest."

President Donald Trumpís new solar tariff imposes a 30 percent tax on all imported solar panels. Duke, which plans plans to build 700 megawatts of solar power by 2021, said the tariff will drive up its costs. But it doesnít have an estimate for the financial impact on its customers yet.

Related coverage: Trump applies tariffs to solar panels, washing machines>

Just a month ago, Duke filed with the Florida Public Service Commission to recover $513 million in costs related to Hurricane Irma and other storms, which would have driven monthly bills up by more than $5 if approved.

That cost has been wiped out, however, by savings Duke will realize courtesy of the new federal tax law.

"Hurricane Irma was the worst storm to ever hit Duke Energy Florida and impacted many lives," Duke Florida president Harry Sideris said in a release. "Redirecting the tax reform savings against the storm costs ensures that our customers will reap the benefits of this new law."

Related coverage: Duke, Tampa Electric file to hike rates following Hurricane Irma>

Tampa Electric Co., which filed in December to collect $88 million for storm recovery costs ó $4 extra per month for customers ó is also looking into the option of passing on its tax savings, according to spokesperson Cherie Jacobs.

Unlike Duke, Tampa Electric does not expect to be affected by the solar panel tariff. The utility said that material it is using to build 600 megawatts of solar power over the next four years would be exempt from the tariff.

"We expect to complete the projects on time and on budget," Jacobs said Tuesday.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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