TALLAHASSEE — Florida residents and businesses likely will get hit with higher electric bills in 2023 as utilities continue to struggle with increased costs of natural gas.
Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co. filed petitions Friday at the state Public Service Commission that detailed expected costs in 2023. If the commission approves the utilities’ proposals, each would result in higher monthly bills in 2023.
And that might not be all: The utilities also could seek to pass along higher-than-expected fuel costs from this year, though they are holding off on making such requests.
While utility bills are made up of a combination of costs, a key driver in the petitions is the high cost of natural gas, which Florida utilities rely on heavily to generate electricity. The three large privately owned utilities also increased customer bills earlier this year because of gas prices.
“Both domestic conditions and international events have significantly impacted the natural gas market,” Duke’s petition said. “Since early this year, natural gas prices have more than doubled due to increased domestic demand, flat natural gas production, strong LNG (liquefied natural gas) overseas exports, and low natural gas storage inventories. The natural gas market has not stabilized and continues to be extremely volatile.”
As an example of the industry’s heavy reliance on natural gas, Tampa Electric expects in 2003 to use gas to generate 84 percent of its electricity, with solar accounting for 11 percent and coal for 5 percent, John Heisey, director of origination and trading for the company, said in written testimony included with Tampa Electric’s petition.
Meanwhile, overall demand for natural gas exceeded supply in 2022, he said.
“Higher gas demand is driven by LNG exports, low coal inventories, extreme summer weather, and low storage inventories,” Heisey said in the testimony. “Production growth has been very slow as producers exercise capital discipline despite rising gas prices. In addition, the Ukraine invasion continues to impact the energy markets through increased volatility and uncertainty, which is expected to continue into 2023.”
The Public Service Commission is expected to consider the petitions in November. As a benchmark, utilities typically cite bills for residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month.
Duke said in its petition that Duke customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours are projected to pay an average of $170.68 in 2023, up from an average of $148.23 this year. Tampa Electric said in a news release that such Tampa Electric customers would pay $146.86 in 2023, up from $132.66 this year.
Because of a merger with the former Gulf Power, FPL has two sets of rates. Its petition said customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours a month in areas traditionally served by FPL would pay $130.23 in 2023, up from $120.67 this year. In the Northwest Florida areas formerly served by Gulf Power, customers would pay $160.43 in 2023, up from $155.61 in 2022.
Natural gas is not the only factor expected to lead to higher bills. The utilities also are carrying out multiyear plans that include gradually increasing base electric rates.
Utilities generally are allowed to pass along fuel costs to customers and are not supposed to collect profits on those costs. Each year, they file petitions that include projected costs for the coming year. The commission then decides whether those projected costs can be baked into customers’ bills.
Also, the utilities in 2023 could seek to recoup higher-than-expected fuel costs in 2022. Each has faced higher costs but said in their filings that they want to wait until late this year or early 2023 before addressing the issue.
“FPL believes it is appropriate to continue to monitor the market to determine whether the conditions and international events that have sharply impacted the natural gas market will moderate, such that a future fuel forecast may mitigate the projected fuel costs to be recovered,” FPL said in its petition Friday. “FPL will continue to update its fuel cost calculation with additional data reflecting actual gas prices, actual sales and actual revenues. At the appropriate time toward the end of 2022 or beginning of 2023, FPL will file a request for recovery based on an updated calculation, to be considered by the commission in early 2023 for implementation following the customer notice period.”
Duke and Tampa Electric issued news releases acknowledging what Tampa Electric President and CEO Archie Collins described as the “unique economic challenges our customers and communities are facing.” They also pointed to efforts to help customers struggling to pay bills.
“We understand our customers continue facing increased financial demands in all parts of their lives,” Melissa Seixas, Duke’s state president, said in a statement. “We’re connecting customers to available assistance and providing energy-saving tools and programs to help manage their bills and lessen the impact. Please reach out to us. We’re here to help.”
During Tyler Deem’s 130-day hike along the Appalachian Trail this year, the Citrus County resident was tempted only once to give up.
During Deem’s 2,194-mile trek along the Appalachian Mountain Range, it was when he knew he would take a four-day break to attend a family wedding in May.
That’s when the 33-year-old, former U.S. Army infantry captain was most tempted to end his adventure and call finishing half the trail good enough and rejoin his wife and 5-year-old son.
“My mind went down that rabbit hole. I thought isn’t it cool that I already hiked 1,000 miles,” he said. “I thought what else do I have to prove.”
He had accepted hiking nearly 20 miles a day. It created its own rhythm, Deem said.
Breaking that rhythm, he told the Chronicle, made him afraid it would end the rest of the hike.
So why finish when the majority of hikers don’t finish the challenging trail?
To prove “that I can finish something. To set an example for my son,” he said.
What did he think of his decision for his hike that started on Feb. 20 at Amicola Falls, near Dahlonega, Georgia, and ended June 30 at Mount Katahdin, Maine.
“I am glad (I decided not to stop). It was incredibly rewarding, incredibly beautiful, and a great challenge,” he told the Chronicle.
Deem was one of about 4,000 people who attempt the entire length of the historic trail annually. Only one in four finish, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Since 2016, that’s dropped to about one in five.
According to The Trek, an online website publication dedicated to long-distance hiking, a survey of Appalachian Trail hikers in 2017 reported that 69 percent of the hikers who quit did so because they get injured or sick, 15 percent had family issues back home or ran out of time or money, and 15 percent reported being worn down by mental fatigue and loss of interest.
“I was lucky,” Deem said. “I didn’t get hurt.”
“Injury and illness are a hiker’s nightmare. Not bears or snakes,” he said.
Deem said he found three groups of people who hike the Appalachian Trail:
Young people who just graduated college and have the time before starting a career.
People who have just retired from working.
People who plan a career change.
Deem fell in the third group.
He had served in the U.S. Army for 10 years.
“I was looking for an adventure,” he told the Chronicle.
The eldest of three boys from Lecanto, Deem said of his stint in the Army, “I got to go all over the world. I got out of it exactly what I wanted to get out of it.”
He married his wife Cecelia the day he was commissioned. He had gone through an ROTC program at the University of Tampa where he met his future wife.
While he enjoyed the military life, it had its downsides.
He and his family were transferred every two years, which didn’t allow time to lay down roots. It also kept the couple and their son from seeing their family very often. It also meant Deem could be transferred for months at a time to posts that didn’t allow families to travel along with him.
Deem said it was time for a different life.
“I realized my priorities had shifted,” he said.
So, after 10 years in the Army he called it quits and decided to settle down in Citrus County, close to his family and that of his wife’s family.
His father and uncle owned and operated Deems Kitchen & Counters, and he had the opportunity to join them. His wife is a teacher at Lecanto Primary school.
But before starting his apprenticeship, he wanted one more adventure.
For the previous two years he had studied the Appalachian Trail and what it would take to hike it.
For months before beginning the trek, he worked out at the Lecanto YMCA to strengthen his lower body.
“My wife fully supported me,” he said. “I wanted an adventure where I could reflect where I was and where I wanted to go. I wanted to reflect on that time in the military.”
The Appalachian Trail is not as remote as people think, he said, and often there are “a bubble” of hikers that travel, at least for a time, together.
He traveled mostly alone and started about a month before most other hikers.
When he started the hike he weighed 185 pounds. When he finished he weighed 160 pounds.
He was meticulous about how he planned what to take on the trail and what to leave behind.
“Ounces lead to pounds and pounds lead to pain,” he said was his mantra.
His coldest day hiking through the 14 states of the trail was in western North Carolina, when the temperature dropped to 5 degrees. The hottest was in New York when a heat wave pushed the temperature to 95 degrees.
Sometimes he treated himself to staying in a hostel where he could grab a shower and sleep on a cot.
Sometimes he would hitchhike to the closest grocery store to buy supplies. Meals were plain and chosen because of weight and calories.
When night fell and it got dark, he said there was little reason to stay up and most hikers went to sleep.
There was plenty of time and space to think and reflect.
Unlike the military where you are surrounded by other soldiers to motivate you, when you hike alone, “there’s no one else who can motivate you to keep going.”
Although he was able to communicate by phone with his family, “it’s not the same as someone right next to you.”
If he were to do the hike again, what would he do differently?
Take someone along, he said, “to share those experiences.”
“It would have been better,” he said. “I had to put those memories into letters to my family.”
The trail was first proposed in 1921 and completed in 1937. It took a decade to build.
It is a fact not lost on Deem.
“My biggest takeaway? Gratitude,” he said.
Gratitude to the people who made the adventure possible, he said.
“And gratitude, he said, “for the previous generation that put this thing called the Appalachian Trail together.”
County commissioners will hear from the public Oct. 18 whether they want to continue reading all legal notices and government announcements in the Citrus County Chronicle or log online to read them on the county clerk’s website.
Gov. Ron DeSantis in May signed into law a bill allowing local governments to publish legal notices on publicly available county websites if it would be cheaper than publishing them in newspapers.
Commissioners discussed the matter at their last meeting, but one glaring problem by switching them online to the county was the lack of internet service in several spots in Citrus County. That would restrict access to those online notices from the clerk’s office.
That obstacle is being addressed by the county’s Local Technology Planning Team (LTPT), formed in December 2021 to “collect information about the community and local businesses to see what we have now and what we need for the future.”
County spokeswoman Veronica Kampschroer said the LTPT was not created at the behest of the county commission.
“It is a staff initiative with the primary function of collecting information required for future grant funding to be received by local public and/or private entities from the Florida DEO,” she said. “Think of it as a local arm supporting the statewide initiative.”
The state’s Office of Broadband gave the go-ahead for counties to form these LTPTs that include cross-sections of the community including stakeholders in education, health care, private business, community organizations and government.
The teams’ purposes include these directives:
Work with rural communities to help the communities understand their current broadband availability;
Locate unserved and underserved businesses and residents;
Identify assets relevant to broadband deployment;
Build partnerships with broadband service providers;
Teams must be proactive in fiscally constrained counties in identifying funding opportunities and providing assistance with applying for federal grants for broadband Internet service.
Kampschroer said the team will be bringing a report to a future commission meeting but right now it’s still in the draft process.
County commissioners will hold a tentative 2022-23 budget hearing Thursday to discuss a proposed tentative millage rate of 8.1907 mills.
That’s a 13.64 percent increase over the rolled-back rate of 7.2074 mills. That rate would produce $99,814,108 in ad valorem tax revenue.
The board will also discuss the proposed tentative budget of $390,911,484, a 1.9 percent decrease from the 2021-22 fiscal year budget of $398,490,010.
One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.
Colleen Scott, the county’s management and budget director, said the board can reduce (but not raise) the 8.2458 rate all the way up to the final Sept. 27 budget meeting.
The budget was calculated based on the rollback rate, plus 0.5 percent for inflation.
The rollback rate is the millage rate which would generate the same amount of property tax as the previous year. So if the value of taxable property in the county increases, the rollback decreases.
Meanwhile, Citrus County property owners were mailed their Truth in Millages (TRIM) notices Aug. 19, showing an estimate of their taxes. The tax collector’s office will mail the property tax bill at the beginning of November, after the final budget hearing Sept. 27.
The county said millage increases are intended to support emergency medical services (EMS), residential road resurfacing, enhanced mental health services and salary increases for sworn law enforcement and 911 communications staff at the sheriff’s office.
Taxes are calculated through the millage: One mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 of taxable value on property. When the millage rate stays the same, anyone who experiences an increase in the taxable value of the property they own will see a tax increase.
For more on Thursday’s budget hearing, visit https://bit.ly/3BkgVX8
The tentative budget hearing is at 5:01 p.m. Thursday at the Citrus County Courthouse, 110 N. Apopka Ave., Inverness.