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Crowd decries rate increase for TECO

A small crowd turned out in a light drizzle Wednesday night to object to Tampa Electric Co.'s request for a 10.3 percent rate increase.

The company instead should be lowering rates, opponents said.

"We strongly oppose TECO's proposed rate hike," said Monte Belote of the Florida Consumer Action Network, a non-profit lobbying group representing about 14,000 Tampa Bay area residents. "Frankly, they already are the highest of the four utilities in the state."

About 50 people showed up for the only local public hearing on the increase by the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates utility rates.

TECO says it needs the extra $97.9-million from the increase to cover escalating costs, finance expansion and guarantee a reasonable rate of return to stockholders. This would be TECO's first rate increase since 1984.

John Rowe, the utility's vice president of regulatory affairs, said the poor economy makes this a bad time to raise rates. But the company has done its best to control costs, he said.

The increase would add $6.50 to the average residential customer's monthly bill, starting in February. Another $2.80 a month would be added beginning in January 1994.

State Public Counsel Jack Shreve, who represents consumers in utility cases, said TECO's proposal calls for current electric customers to help finance power for future customers. That's wrong, he said. The company should bear the burden for growth, he argued.