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Two utilities seek 2001 rate increases

Florida Power and FP&L blame fuel prices for the request to the PSC. If approved, the increases would be the second in six months.

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2000


Millions of Floridians would pay a few more dollars in monthly electric bills next year to offset higher oil and natural gas prices under proposals filed Thursday by the state's two largest utilities.

St. Petersburg-based Florida Power Corp. asked the state Public Service Commission for a 3.5 percent boost in power prices for 2001, mostly to recoup the cost of fuel used to generate electricity. The monthly bill for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours a month would increase $2.99 to $89.71.

Florida Power & Light of Juno Beach requested a whopping 8.7 percent increase. But Tampa Electric Co. customers likely won't see their electric rate change next year, company officials said.

The price increases would be the second in six months for Florida Power and FP&L customers. In May, the PSC approved midyear fuel-related rate increases for all three utilities, effective June 15.

"We're seeing oil and natural gas prices continue to escalate just as consumers are seeing it at the pumps," Florida Power spokeswoman Mary Estes said. "We realize that increased fuel prices, which are out of our control, can be a burden on customers."

Each November, the PSC reviews requests by utilities to adjust surcharges for the following year in three areas: fuel and purchases of power, costs to make environmental improvements and the cost of energy conservation programs.

A barrel of oil for electric generation that cost FP&L $10.61 in January 1999 cost the company $28.40 in August, FP&L officials said. The price FP&L paid for natural gas jumped from $2.67 to $4.55 per million BTUs in the same period.

FP&L, Florida's largest utility with 3.8-million customers, has been hit hardest by higher fuel prices. About half of the electricity FPL provides comes from plants fired by oil or natural gas, spokesman Bill Swank said.

Florida Power has a more balanced mix, generating 35 percent of its power from oil and natural gas, 48 percent from coal and 18 percent from nuclear energy, Estes said.

Tampa Electric escaped relatively unscathed by the rising oil and natural gas prices. Only 1 percent of its power is generated from oil; 90 percent comes from coal.

Utility officials in Tampa anticipated fuel prices would remain high in 2001 and included those costs in the midyear adjustment, said Thomas Hernandez, the company's vice president for regulatory affairs.

Tampa Electric filed Thursday for a small combined price increase for fuel, purchased power and environmental improvements. The utility expects that to even out when officials file for a decrease in the adjustment for conservation programs next week.

Florida Power and FP&L officials both saw oil prices ticking down in April and didn't build continuing high costs into their midyear adjustments.

"Unfortunately, prices began to rise," Estes said. "All trends indicated that prices had peaked."

Florida Power customers using 1,000 kilowatt hours saw their monthly bill increase $2.96 to $86.72 this summer when the midyear fuel adjustment kicked in.

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