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Economy / Business

State Senator Seeks to Rein in Utility Bill Extensions

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State utility regulators would have to give formal approval before Duke Energy Florida or any other power company could again hike customer bills through a temporary billing-cycle extension, under a measure being worked on by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness.

Dean's office announced Monday that the senator is planning a pair of utility-related proposals for the 2015 legislative session, including one that would require approval by the state Public Service Commission before the start of any billing-cycle extensions that are not emergency-related.

"The current proposal in drafting will require any pre-approval except for issues related to a state of emergency issued by the governor," Dean's legislative assistant Chase Daniels said in an email.

Dean's bill is being crafted because of the nearly completed effort by Duke Energy to remap its meter-reading routes. A commission rule allows Duke to extend monthly billing cycles while the utility changes meter-reading routes and billing dates.

"We look forward to reviewing Senator Dean’s proposed legislation once it is filed," Duke spokesman Sterling Ivey said in an email Monday.

Since May 2013 Duke has been revising the routes for meter readers from Orlando to just outside of Tallahassee.

The rerouting has resulted in about 208,000 Duke customers getting higher-than-usual monthly bills because extra days of standard electricity use were added to a single bill.

Duke customers are charged $11.34 for every 100 kilowatt hours of use up to 1,000 kilowatt hours. The rate jumps to $13.70 for each 100 kilowatt hours after the 1,000 kilowatt mark.

The temporary increase has so far averaged $5.62 for those hit with a higher monthly bill, ranging from a low of 2-cents to a high of $23.60, according to Duke Energy figures.

An outcry about the billing change erupted in August as the rerouting reached the Tampa-St. Petersburg region.

The outcry, which drew the attention of Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, resulted in Duke announcing it would credit those customers impacted by the extended billing cycle.

Through early September the company has credited approximately $1.3 million to Florida customers, Ivey said in the email.

On Sept. 4, Dean, whose sprawling, largely rural district has about 125,000 Duke customers, offered to carry legislation for state utility regulators to prevent utilities from again simply using the existing state rule.

Instead, members of the Public Service Commission decided to hold a workshop early next year to determine if they think a rewrite is needed.


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