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POWER POINTS // Energy brokers keep an eye on the changes for Florida Power

Larry Tittle isn't a local weatherman. But you can be sure he knows the 5-day forecast.

Tittle is the director of Florida Power's young power marketing business, part of the new competitive world of buying and selling electricity. Tittle's goal: maximize Florida Power's generation of electricity through bulk energy sales to other utilities at the best possible price.

To support that effort, Florida Power opened a new energy trading center last December in its St. Petersburg headquarters. The center houses a handful of energy brokers and a wall-sized trading board that tracks buy-and-sell prices of electricity throughout the Southeast and in other parts of the country.

But back to the weather. On each side of Florida Power's trading board is a TV set tuned to the Weather Channel. Change in temperature is a big influence in the demand for and on the price of electricity.

On a recent visit, Florida Power brokers were selling electricity at cheap prices on a mild, midweek day. But they were buying electricity several days in advance - anticipating a cold front heading towards central Florida. Demand for electricity can spike on cold days, when homeowners turn on their heat. And Florida Power was busy buying up power in advance - before prices climbed any higher.

Tittle acknowledges his power marketing unit is a modest and poorly understood part of a big utility. But he's convinced his team's experience will prepare Florida Power for the day when it will openly compete for the business of most of its customers.

"We're like a race car with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake," Tittle says. "If anything, I'd like to see this market get more active."

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