Gulf Power withdraws plans for fixed-charge hike in Florida (with a chart)

A settlement between Florida utility Gulf Power and the state’s Office of Public Counsel (OPC) heads off what could have been a protracted battle over fixed charges the utility wanted to add to customer’s bills.

Both sides are asking the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve the deal, which stems from an October petition by Gulf Power. The utility asked the PSC to approve a fixed charge that critics allege would have added $50 to the electricity bill of an average Florida homeowner. Gulf Power said the charges were necessary to keep 24/7 power available to its customers.

According to Gulf Power, the average Floridian’s bill is currently $144 and will rise to $151 if the PSC approves the compromise. The utility notes that this would still be lower than what most customers were paying in 2015.

2017-03-20 13_39_11-Gulf Power and Office of Public Counsel agree on customer rates _ Gulf Power New

“This compromise is good for all involved, including Gulf Power’s customers,” said Stan Connally, Gulf Power chairman, president & CEO. “Most importantly, it supports our current infrastructure investment — which ultimately helps us continue to provide our customers with long-term, reliable service with a balanced energy mix across northwest Florida.”

Connally cited the need to continue to invest in the reliability of the grid to ensure a secure energy future.

“Our obligation is to have the electricity available when and where our customers need it,” Connally said. “This investment is necessary to meet the expectations of our customers now, and for future generations.”

Solar advocacy organization Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC) quickly hailed the agreement as a win for solar customers. More than 1,000 customers commented on during public hearings in Panama City and Pensacola, along with written comments on the PSC site. The majority of the comments suggested raising the fixed charge would have created an unfair burden to consumers, especially families on low and fixed incomes.

“We are glad that the fixed charge increase has been removed from Gulf Power’s rate restructuring,” said Tory Perfetti, chairman of FSC and Florida director of Conservatives for Energy Freedom. “This removal is a common-sense decision. Consumer choice is a staple of Florida’s economy, and this fixed charge hike would have been a step in the wrong direction.”

After languishing for a decade about solar development and considerable controversy during last year’s election over solar choice in the state – with two Florida constitutional amendments on the ballot, one pro-solar and one utility-supported anti-solar bill – the state is trying to make up for lost time. Florida Power & Light now has three solar plants in operation and plans eight more by next year. Gulf Power is building two plants to power two military bases in Valparaiso and Pensacola. And after the elections made solar choice options clearer, No. 1 residential installer SolarCity came to the state and began doing business for the first time.