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TECO wants to calculate cost of service in a way that impacts residential customers, advocates say

Advocates say officials at Tampa Electric want to avoid a requirement that ensures rate increases for electricity are distributed fairly.
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A couple of Hillsborough County commissioners agreed to each send personal letters asking the commission which oversees Tampa Electric to request the utility do the required cost of service study ahead of next year's base rate changes.

Advocates say officials at Tampa Electric want to avoid a requirement that ensures rate increases for electricity are distributed fairly.

Every few years, private utilities, like TECO, go through a process to set base rates for the next 2-4 years.

TECO officials are asking the state for permission to alter the process as they consider rate changes next year.

The company filed a petition to avoid a method of calculating cost of service, which is a minimum requirement when preparing to change base rates.

"Historically, when they skip that study, rates go up for residential customers," said Brooke Ward, with Food and Water Watch.

"... they've been moving towards this methodology that increasingly allocates costs unfairly to residential customers and away from their from their biggest customers, which are big energy users.”
Bradley Marshall, lawyer with Earth Justice

Ward said TECO is instead proposing a method that distributes more of the cost to residential rather than industrial and commercial customers.

Bradley Marshall, a lawyer with Earth Justice, said September data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that TECO customers paid among the highest residential electric bills in the nation.

"That's because they've been moving towards this methodology that increasingly allocates costs unfairly to residential customers and away from their from their biggest customers, which are big energy users,” said Marshall.

He's referring to industrial and commercial customers.

Marshall said the study that TECO is trying to avoid is what’s called a 12CP and 1/13th cost of service study, which would look closer at energy usage of each customer class, like residential, commercial and industrial.

But the utility is asking to instead file a 4CP with MDS, which he said has been pushed by its industrial customers.

Public comment period

The Florida Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities, created a two-week public comment period that fell during the Thanksgiving holiday.

That’s “problematic,” Marshall said, because it’s “cutting off” the public’s opportunity to comment on it.

“It's a very technical issue … I think it should take extra time, and certainly not over the Thanksgiving holiday,” he said.

Marshall said he spoke to commission staff, who said they wanted time to be able to digest public comments, and they’re within the rules to allow 14 days of public comment.

The public has until Thursday, Nov. 30, to comment on TECO's petition, although the PSC hearing won’t take place until Jan. 10 to discuss it.

“This is directly to impact or reduce the amount of public comments that can be submitted in opposition to this egregious petition by Tampa Electric,” said Ward.

She and 13 other activists brought up this issue to the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners on Nov. 15 during their regular meeting.

Hillsborough Commissioner Pat Kemp, representing District 6, said she would personally write a letter requesting the PSC do a “full and balanced cost survey.” Commissioner Harry Cohen, representing District 1, followed her, saying he was committed to writing one with his letterhead, as well.

 A spokesperson for TECO declined comment.

Corrected: November 29, 2023 at 4:47 PM EST
This story has been updated. Tampa Electric residential customers had among the highest average bills in the nation in September. A previous version incorrectly attributed that ranking to the company's electric rates.
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.