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Tampa Bay power companies among first to resume shutoffs

Other Florida utilities haven't set a firm date to resume shutoffs, while other states are opting for longer bans.

The clock is ticking for Tampa Bay utility customers who haven’t paid their power bills during the pandemic.

Beginning in September, both of Tampa Bay’s major power companies will resume shutoffs for those who haven’t paid their bills or made payment arrangements.

Their Florida peers haven’t put a date on when they will resume disconnections. And other areas of the country are putting even wider moratoriums on power shutoffs.

“Like many businesses, we must now take steps toward resuming our standard billing practices,” Tampa Electric said in a letter to customers.

Tampa Electric Co. and Duke Energy Florida are the area’s two primary power companies. Each will resume shutoffs as early as Sept. 1. That’s a month later than Tampa Electric originally projected.

Both utilities are encouraging customers who can’t pay their full bills to work out a payment plan to avoid shutoffs.

At a Wednesday Florida Public Service Commission workshop on how COVID-19 is affecting the state’s utilities, power companies said a growing number of customers are falling behind on bills.

Between April 1 and June 1, 150,000 Duke Energy residential customers were one day or more behind on payments compared to 100,000 the same month in 2019. The company is $18 million short in revenue typically collected from residents over this period.

For Tampa Electric, roughly 92,000 customers had past-due accounts as of the end of June.

A Duke Energy representative said that it expects those number to drop as it resumes disconnections.

“Right now customers don’t have an incentive or motive to make a payment or set themselves up on a payment arrangement,” said Lesley Quick, vice president of strategic planning governance and technology. “So when we start going back to normal operations, we should start seeing these numbers continue to decline.”

Should the state’s three other public electric utilities continue on their current course, Tampa Electric and Duke Energy will be the first to begin disconnecting customers.

Florida Power & Light will continue to refrain from disconnections until further notice. This could change, as spokesman Chris McGrath said FPL will continue to evaluate its pandemic policies.

“While we never want to turn the lights off for nonpayment, especially during these difficult times,” he said, “we remain mindful that unpaid electric bills are ultimately paid for by all FPL customers.”

Gulf Power Co. is continuing to suspend disconnections, while Florida Public Utilities Co. will resume disconnections when the state’s emergency order lifts.

Other states are going further in their requirements for shutoffs. Kentucky, which Duke Energy’s parent company also serves, suspended all shutoffs until further notice. Connecticut stopped disconnections for the duration of the pandemic. Kansas utilities must offer a year-long payment plan for customers and scrap late fees through 2020.

Florida regulators on Wednesday said staff is working on a set of recommendations for the state’s utilities during the pandemic that will be forthcoming.

Customers who need assistance paying their bills should contact their utility. Tampa Electric customers can call 888-223-0800 on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and weekends from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. More information is available online at tampaelectric.com/updates and peoplesgas.com/updates. Duke Energy customers can call 800-700-8744 during the week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and visit https://www.dukeenergyupdates.com/ for more information.

***

When utilities will resume the shutoff process:

  • Tampa Electric Co.: Sept. 1
  • Duke Energy Florida: Sept. 1
  • Gulf Power Co.: Continuing to suspend disconnections
  • Florida Public Utilities Co.: When emergency order lifts
  • Florida Power & Light: Continuing to suspend disconnections

• • •

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