Tampa Bay area utility customers will see a drop in their bills by as much as 6 percent beginning Jan. 1, due in large part to lower prices for natural gas.
The cost savings — finalized with the last in a series of utility cost adjustments approved Tuesday by state Public Service Commission — will benefit both residential and commercial customers, though actual savings will depend on individual usage.
"We know that every penny counts to consumers," said J.R. Kelly, the public counsel who represents Floridians on electric, gas, water and wastewater utility matters.
For example, TECO, which includes subsidiary Tampa Electric, says residential customers' bills will drop from $112.73 per 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage per month to $107.02 on Jan. 1 — a 5 percent or $5.71 savings. That's the lowest monthly charge per 1,000 kilowatt hours at Tampa Electric since 2005, when the cost was $98.07.
"Our team members have done an excellent job in effectively managing our fuel purchases, generating units and operating costs, which has resulted in lower overall energy costs for our customers," Tampa Electric president Gordon Gillette said in a statement.
At Progress Energy Florida, residential customers' bills will run $119.34 a month per 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage. That amounts to a $7.56 monthly reduction in utility costs over 2010, which stands at $126.90 per 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage.
The final numbers announced Tuesday surpassed Progress Energy's cost-saving projections earlier this fall by more than $3 a month for residential customers. But Progress Energy customers' costs remain higher than Tampa Electric's in part because of a nuclear plant recovery surcharge designed to pay for a $17 billion nuclear plant on a 5,000-acre site 4 miles north of Inglis.
At $119.34, Progress Energy customers' bills will run the lowest since 2008, when bills were $108.11 per 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage.
In addition to lower natural gas prices, Progress Energy customers benefited from the utility's new coal-burning units, which are more efficient and more environmentally friendly. The units reduce emissions by 80 percent, Kelly said.
The lower overall utility costs also reduced taxes.
"Our efforts to control costs through effective fuel management and efficient operations are resulting in savings for our customers," said Vincent Dolan, president and CEO of Progress Energy Florida. "Our more than 4,000 Florida employees are focused on keeping electricity safe, reliable, environmentally sound and as affordable as possible for the 1.6 million households and businesses that depend on us."
Bill Newton, executive director for the Florida Consumer Action Network, said he was pleased with the savings customers will realize but said more needs to be done to cut utility costs than relying on fluctuations in the price of fuel.
"That's a pass-through," Newton said. "It goes up and down. It's not that the utility is doing anything special. It cost them less so it cost us less."
"Still our concern is the cost of the nuke plants," he said, referring to Progress Energy's nuclear recovery fee for the plant that has yet to be built. "We are working … to get that law repealed. Getting those other pennies would help too."
Ivan Penn can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.