June 20, 2008

Turn Off the Lights! Electric Bills Likely to Rise for Orlando-Area Customers

By Christopher Boyd, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

Jun. 20--Summer's here, and Florida's two largest investor-owned utilities have both filed petitions to increase electric rates to compensate for higher energy costs.

The double whammy of hot weather and higher rates couldn't come at a worse time for financially stressed Floridians.

Higher gasoline and food prices are placing a growing burden on household budgets. The rising cost of fuel is also pressuring utilities. Florida Power & Light Co. and Progress Energy Florida have each asked the Florida Public Service Commission to approve emergency rate increases to compensate for rising natural gas and other fuel costs. Orlando Utilities Commission is mulling a rate increase this summer, while the Kissimmee Utilities Authority already adjusts rates month to month based on its costs.

Utilities have programs to ease the load on certain consumers. In some cases, the companies and some local charities offer short-term financial assistance. Many power companies, including FP&L and Progress Energy, also offer programs to distribute a customer's monthly costs more evenly over the year, lessening the effect of expensive cooling bills in the summer.

Bigger bills coming?

Progress Energy has asked for an 8 percent, mid-year rate increase to cover higher energy costs. That increase, which would extend through the end of the year, would raise the cost of a 1,000 kilowatt-hour bill to $116.79 a month from $108.11.

FP&L this month asked the PSC for a 16 percent, mid-year increase to cover its unexpected fuel costs. The rate hike, also effective through year's end, would raise the typical 1,000 kilowatt-hour residential bill from $102.63 now to $118.91.

OUC's board plans to meet in July to discuss passing its increased energy costs on to its customers.

KUA adjusts its rates monthly to compensate for changing energy costs -- and at the moment, they're on the rise.

Help is available

Florida Power & Light : The Care to Share program provides emergency-assistance funds to customers who are in a crisis and can't pay the electric bill. The funds are distributed through local nonprofits. The company also suggests that customers request a home-energy survey, which offers tips on how to conserve power, and consider repairing air-conditioning ducts and replacing old cooling units. Details: 1-800-226-3545.

Progress Energy Florida: Provides assistance through the Emergency Neighbor Fund, which also distributes its aid through local assistance agencies. Progress Energy also conducts home-energy inspections and offers conservation tips on its company Web site. Details: 1-800-700-8744.

Orlando Utilities Commission: Offers assistance to customers through United Way's 2-1-1 program. The city-owned utility accepts contributions from its customers and matches each donated dollar with $2 of its money. In the past 10 years, it has raised more than $1 million for the United Way fund. OUC also encourages conservation and has programs to help customers reduce their bills. Details: 407-423-9018.

Kissimmee Utilities Authority: The municipally owned power company also raises assistance money by matching customer contributions, on a dollar-for-dollar basis. A spokesman said combined contributions normally total $50,000 to $60,000 a year. Details: 407-933-7777.

Christopher Boyd can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5723.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

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