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Tampa Electric rates will drop slightly next year following lower fossil fuel costs

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Clean energy advocates say it's not much relief after average bills have gone up 62 percent in four years.

Tampa Electric customers will soon see their rates decrease a bit, but clean energy advocates call this a "drop in the bucket” since the average bill has increased so much in recent years.

TECO creates energy from fossil fuels. The cost of that fuel fluctuates, and it decreased slightly this past year. So, the Florida Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities, approved this week an 11% rate drop for customers starting in January. 

Bills for TECO customers have on average gone up 62% since 2019. The monthly cost for 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy on average was $99.53 in January 2019, and this past April it was up to $161.94.

“Even with this latest approved fuel change, TECO bills next January will still be 44% higher than they were four years ago. So, we're paying more for the same dirty fossil fuels that are also at the same time driving us deeper into climate chaos,” said Brooke Ward with Food and Water Watch and the Affordable Energy Coalition.

She said by 2032, the utility plans to use fracked gas to supply 78.1% of its total energy generation.

"So that means that customers are still going to be susceptible to the volatility of these prices," she said. 

More increases could be coming

TECO could cut energy costs by a third by converting to sustainable energy sources, according to Ward. For example, if a resident’s electricity bill was $300, it would go down by $100.

She said Tampa Electric will have another rate hike hearing in the new year, and she expects another increase for residents.

"We've been organizing around the Hillsborough County Commission to pass a comprehensive, affordable energy plan that will phase out fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency, and help to relieve the energy burden on our Hillsborough families,” Ward said.

“Even with this latest approved fuel change, TECO bills next January will still be 44% higher than they were four years ago. So, we're paying more for the same dirty fossil fuels that are also at the same time driving us deeper into climate chaos.”
Brooke Ward

She’d like to see Hillsborough come up with its own energy plan, like the ones released by City of Tampa and Pinellas County this past year.

“Hillsborough County is running behind in putting forth an affordable energy plan. We saw earlier this year, the City of Tampa put out a Climate Action and Equity Plan that gave a lot of different moves that municipalities and counties can make to lower the cost of energy,” Ward said.

How the Hillsborough County Commission could help

She said Hillsborough could lower the cost of energy for residents by utilizing federal grants to provide energy efficiency upgrades in some local neighborhoods that need it the most.

“We're looking at renters, multifamily housing, low-income housing — just by putting better insulation in, better windows, better appliances, we can reduce the amount of energy that's being used and decrease energy bills drastically,” Ward said. 

She added that the county can work with Tampa Electric to make county lands available for building out renewable energy infrastructure.

“There's a lot that can be done, and that's why it's necessary for Chair (Ken) Hagen and the Hillsborough County Commission to take the first steps in that process, which would be hearing from experts in the community about what can be done. And then, starting a stakeholder group that could come up with affordable energy recommendations that could then be turned into a comprehensive plan,” she said.

After pressure from Ward and her fellow activists in April, the Hillsborough County Commission sent a letter to the Public Service Commission asking them to hold hearings in-district for anything that could potentially increase the rates of customers.

The meetings usually take place during the work week in Tallahassee, which is not accessible to most residents.

“We have not seen Tampa Electric have a PSC hearing in-district since that letter was sent,” Ward said.

“Since next year is when Tampa Electric will be asking for its new base rate, we're hoping that the Hillsborough County Commission will intervene again and call for those meetings to be in-district, but also that they will formally intervene in the process and call for Tampa Electric to lower the energy burden and to ensure that residential rates are not increased over the upcoming four-year period.” 

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.