July 30, 2008

Power Rate Hike OK’D

By Daniel Carson, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.

Jul. 30--PANAMA CITY -- Gulf Power Co. residential customers should start noticing a difference in their monthly bills soon after the Florida Public Service Commission approved the utility's request Tuesday for a price increase.

Gulf Power asked for an increase that raises residential rates for 1,000 kilowatt hours by 11.3 percent, from $102.22 to about $113.77, beginning with September bills.

Spokeswoman Lynn Erickson said Gulf Power's and several other major Florida utilities' request for a mid-year fuel adjustment was unusual but necessary because of rising coal and natural gas costs. The utility did not want to wait until January, when the PSC normally adjusts electricity prices depending on actual or forecasted fuel prices.

"If we had waited until January (2009), it would have made bills for customers in '09 much higher," Erickson said.

The utility asked for the price increase because of an anticipated $76 million shortfall.

In granting the request, the PSC allowed the utility to spread out its increase over the next 16 months, Erickson said. The increase will be spread out through the end of 2009, as opposed to Gulf Power making up the shortfall by the end of 2008.

The average residential customer uses about 1,250 kilowatt hours per month, Erickson said, with some months being more "high-use" months than others.

Overall, the last couple of years' weather has been mild, Erickson said, even with the hotter temperatures of the last few weeks.

Erickson said the utility has seen higher-than-normal customer disconnections of service this year, in part because of prevailing economic conditions.

She said Gulf Power has some budget billing programs that can level out customers' bills for 12 months, making it easier for them to handle price increases.

"That's very helpful to people who have trouble with the wide swings," Erickson said.

In a release, utility spokesman John Hutchinson stressed the importance of energy conservation to Gulf Power customers, especially with no relief in fuel prices expected soon.

The utility also recently requested PSC approval of new components for a Gulf Power energy conservation program.

Gulf Power also offers customers free energy checkups to identify cost-saving measures.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.

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