Tampa Bay’s two investor-owned power companies disconnected nearly as many customers in November as they did the month prior, new state filings show.
Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co. shut off about 25,000 customers’ power in November, the month Florida’s first significant winter cold snap hit. The vast majority of customers were eventually reconnected, leaving about 2,000 customers without electricity.
Both figures are a drop from October — about 50 percent for those left without power, and 16 percent for overall disconnections.
But they still higher than they were the same month in 2019. Overall disconnections are up by about a fifth since that time.
“At Duke Energy, every single customer matters to us,” spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said in a statement. “We want to emphasize the importance that each account still represents a person, family or business. We are continuing to look for ways to help customers who are struggling during these challenging times.”
Florida’s investor-owned power companies announced they would resume disconnections in the fall after pausing shutoffs and fees for several months because of the pandemic. Duke Energy paused disconnections over the holiday season from Dec. 10, 2020 through early January. All offered financial assistance programs and payment plans and pointed customers to community resources for paying their bills.
“It is important for our customers to know we are here for them during this difficult time,” Cherie Jacobs, Tampa Electric spokeswoman, said. “Any customer who is having trouble paying their utility bill should contact us. We are happy to work with them by making flexible payment arrangements or by connecting them to agencies that can help.”
Tampa Electric and its sister company TECO Peoples Gas are giving customers that received “certain federal low-income assistance” last year a bill credit of $85 this month.
But the move to resume shutoffs drew sharp criticism from advocates who said the utilities shouldn’t disconnect customers during a pandemic. Advocates brought a legal challenge to state regulators on the issue, which was denied, and lawmakers called on utilities to put an outright moratorium on shutoffs.
“These people have been left behind,” said Carson Mitchell, spokeswoman for Florida Conservation Voters. Having power disconnected “throws a wrench in things when people need as much consistency as possible right now.”
Both Tampa Bay companies reported an increase in bad debt from unpaid customer bills and fees. Tampa Electric reported $4.2 million in missed payments from March through November. The monthly total increased by $141,000 in November compared to the prior month. Duke reported $7.9 million in missed payments during the same period. The unpaid bill amount jumped by $1.3 million from October to November.
About 82,000 Duke Energy customers are on payment arrangements, up about 7,000 in November, while 114,000 Tampa Electric customers are on payment arrangements, up nearly 19,000 in November.
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For assistance options, Duke Energy customers can call 800-700-8744 or visit https://www.duke-energy.com/Home/Billing/Special-Assistance, and Tampa Electric customers can visit https://www.tampaelectric.com/updates/ or call 888-223-0800.
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