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Climate change is impacting so much around us: heat, flooding, health, wildlife, housing, and more. WUSF, in collaboration with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, is bringing you stories on how climate change is affecting you.

Customers tell TECO what they think of a proposed rate increase

A couple dozen people standing together holding signs with two people standing in front speaking into a microphone.
Jessica Meszaros
/
WUSF
The Hillsborough Affordable Energy Coalition held a rally outside of the Florida Public Service Commission meeting on June 13, 2024, ahead of TECO's rate case hearing. Arlene Washington, a nearly 80-year-old TECO customer, spoke up during it to say she moved to Florida four years ago, but will have to move away again due to the high cost of living here which includes her energy bill.

Tampa Electric customers shared how their energy bills impact their lives. We heard from a senior citizen, a college student and a mother of six, among a couple dozen others.

Tampa Electric customers paid the third highest residential electricity bills in the nation last year among utilities with more than 100,000 residential customers, but the utility is asking for another rate increase.

If approved, the average residential customer could pay $200 more a year, starting in January, which amounts to 62% — or $61 a month — more than six years ago.

Customers of Tampa Electric got to testify Thursday on how their increasing utility bills affect them. It was the first time in 15 years they could address the commission that regulates rate hikes in-person.

The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) held the hearing in Brandon at Hillsborough Community College, instead of Tallahassee like it typically does.

Arlene Washington is a nearly 80-year-old TECO customer. She told commissioners that she sleeps with the A/C off at night to save power.

"We would appreciate it if you could help us to be able to live the way we want to live like everybody else. When we want to buy food, maybe even go out to a restaurant every now and then, or a movie. But right now, we can't do any of those things because we can't afford to do those things,” Washington said.

Isabella Moeller is a student at University of South Florida living off campus. She’s also an intern for Food and Water Watch, which has been advocating against these hikes.

“My main priority should be doing well in school and planning for my future career, not worrying about how I'm going to afford my increasing tuition and rent next year, which are partly due to rising energy costs,” Moeller said.

“This underscores the need for more affordable and sustainable energy solutions to support students like me and achieving and achieving our educational and career aspirations.”

Krystal Pate-Harris is a mother of six children.

“This year I couldn't even afford a birthday party for my three children that has their birthdays in March. I have to now depend on family … because my TECO bill is extremely too high,” Pate-Harris said.

“Sometimes I have to pinch from my rent money, from my car payment, from my daycare for my medical expenses, to provide for my family to make sure I pay my TECO bill because it is a must that we have the lights.”

Marjorie Graciela Guevara told commissioners about volunteering at a free clinic and some of the people that came in struggling to pay for food and medicine.

“You are the ones that make the decision, and you are the only ones that will be able to say ‘no.’ When the future person, which is not hypothetical it’s my neighbors, it’s my friends, my community have to pick between food on their table and paying their electric bill that falls on your hands,” Guevara said.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp also addressed the PSC opposing the increase.

“People are concerned that electric rates that they pay to power their homes are unfair compared to other communities throughout the country. Many have cited the high return on equity that TECO has seen and will increasingly see as evidence that these increases are not necessary,” Kemp said.

“We're importing … billions of dollars in fossil fuels from other states when we have our own abundant natural resource here. We are over-investing in fracked gas and under-investing in clean energy.”

Transitioning away from fracked gas, which is the main source for TECO’s energy production, to utilizing solar power was a common theme coming from the couple dozen people who spoke.

Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity is the number one emitter of climate-warming emissions for the Tampa region, according to a recent report by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

These emissions lead to global warming, rising seas, and more powerful storms.

Commissioners will use the testimony they heard to decide whether to grant TECO the increase.

"Our hope is that with a fully litigated case with residential customers coming out and talking about how the rate impacts are affecting them, that we will not see a rubber stamp here,” said Bradley Marshall, the attorney representing two organizations fighting the rate hike: Florida Rising and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Florida.

The PSC will next meet to discuss the request in August in Tallahassee.

Duke Energy Florida customers also got to address the commission locally this week for the first time in 15 years.

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.