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    Florida Power to ask for higher bills

    By STEVE HUETTEL

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 3, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- Florida Power customers still reeling from sky-high winter electric bills should brace for more bad news this spring.

    The utility will ask the state Public Service Commission next week to increase the typical monthly residential bill by $3.71, or 4 percent, to recover the higher cost of natural gas, oil and coal that fire its power plants.

    The bill, already the highest among Florida's major utilities, would jump from $89.70 to $93.41 starting in April. The increase would last through year's end.

    "We understand that customers just received their highest bills ever," Florida Power spokesman Rick Janka said Friday. "It's a horrible time to be asking now. But we don't have any control over fuel prices."

    Last month, households across the Tampa Bay area were socked with huge electric bills from running heaters overtime to fight frigid weather in December and early January.

    Florida Power's 1.4-million customers saw bills that were 45 percent to 100 percent higher than those in the same month last year. A small part of the increase, about $3 on the typical bill, came from a fuel adjustment that kicked in last month.

    The company's fuel cost jumped nearly 29 percent last year, Janka said. Florida Power projected this year's fuel bill would rise just 6 percent to $889-million. But with natural gas and oil prices still rising, officials think the increase will be three times as much.

    Florida Power isn't alone. Tampa Electric expects to ask for a fuel adjustment, spokeswoman Laura Plumb said. But the increase should be small, she said, because nearly all TECO's power comes from burning coal.

    Florida Power & Light, the state's largest utility with 3.9-million customers, filed with the PSC on Friday to raise its typical monthly residential bill by $7.43, or 9 percent.

    Cost for a typical monthly residential bill:

    (Current, Proposed)

    Florida Power $89.70 -- $93.41

    Tampa Electric $84.47 -- *

    * Tampa Electric expects to ask for an increase but has not yet set a rate.

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