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Duke Energy Florida plans to spend $6.4 billion to harden its grid over 10 years

Last June, the state legislature passed a law that required public utilities to harden their electrical infrastructure against storms.

Duke Energy Florida expects to spend $6.4 billion over the next 10 years to make its grid stand up better to significant storms, its parent company Duke Energy Co. said on a quarterly call Tuesday.

“These investments will generate meaningful customer benefits by enhancing reliability while reducing restoration costs and outage times associated with extreme weather events,” said Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy Co.

Last June, the state legislature passed a law that required public utilities to harden their electrical infrastructure against storms, largely by moving sensitive portions of it underground. They must submit a 10-year plan outlining how they will accomplish this.

But as regulators and stakeholders, including the utilities, hammered out details of what would go into the plans, consumer advocates warned there weren’t enough safeguards to prevent customers from being double-charged.

Without a granular enough account of what projects the utilities would undertake each year, the Office of Public Counsel argued, the utilities could charge customers twice for something that was already accomplished under an existing initiative, such as vegetation trimming.

The latest iteration of the plans mitigates this issue in the short-term for Tampa Bay’s utilities. In a recent settlement with the Florida Public Service Commission, Tampa Electric Co. agreed to lower the base rate it charges customers to make room for the charge in the first years of the program. If the settlement is approved later this year, there is less of a chance customers will be charged twice for a single project.

Duke Energy Florida, too, will shift a portion of what it normally charges customers into this new category in 2022 when it asks for about $105 million for that year’s projects. It filed its plan mid-April.

Should Duke keep to this plan, “the risk is largely mitigated,” said Charles Rehwinkel, lawyer with the Office of Public Counsel.

The amount customers will be charged in a given year for the program will be decided at an annual rate hearing.

Duke Energy shares closed at $81.88 Tuesday.

Emera, Tampa Electric’s Canadian parent company, holds its quarterly shareholder call Wednesday.

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