Thursday, August 16, 2018
Business

Duke Energy Florida raising electric rates average of $5.99 monthly

ST. PETERSBURG — Times have been good for Florida utility customers reaping the reward of falling fuel prices in recent years.

Times are changing. Duke Energy Florida customers will see monthly bills rise about $6 on average under a mid-year residential rate increase that the North Carolina-based utility blames on rising prices for natural gas and coal.

Duke Energy Florida said the increase it proposed Thursday — about $5.99 a month per 1,000 kilowatt hours — would bring the total 1,000-kwh cost to $123.23 monthly, or a 5 percent hike.

The rate increase must be approved by the Florida Public Service Commission at a meeting later this year. If the PSC approves the request as expected, the increase will begin with the July billing cycle, the company said.

Most of the increase is tied to what Duke is paying of natural gas and coal. But $1.14 per month of the bump is an adjustment in the charge customers must pay to finance the closure of the Crystal River nuclear power facility in Citrus County. The increase is due to fluctuations in bond sales, Duke said.

Duke "works to actively manage its fuel contracts and keep costs as low as possible for customers," the company said in a news release. "Fuel costs for 2016 and 2017 were higher than projected. Rather than continuing to under-collect for the remainder of 2017 and accumulate a larger true-up in 2018, the company is providing customers with a timely and more immediate rate correction."

The company noted it makes no extra profit from the increase.

Duke announced the closing of the Crystal River nuclear plant in February 2013. That decision came after a botched upgrade and maintenance project by Duke's predecessor, Progress Energy, cracked the reactor's 42-inch-thick concrete containment building. Attempts to repair the building and bring it back online led to more cracks.

Duke, which bought Progress in 2012, initially considered repairing the plant, but ultimately decided that would be too expensive.

All Florida electric customers have enjoyed several years of low fuel prices, mostly natural gas, but prices have climbed in recent months. Nonetheless, the federal government expects natural gas prices to remain fairly stable over the next 20 years with an ample supply of domestic gas.

Tampa Electric, a subsidiary of the Canadian energy conglomerate Emera, is not seeking a rate increase, according to its spokeswoman, Cherie Jacobs.

Duke, which has 1.8 million customers in Pinellas and west-central Florida, said commercial and industrial customers also will see an increase from 5 to 9 percent.

Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] Follow @Times_Levesque.

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