Duke Energy called on by PSC to explain meter reading changes

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State regulators want to know why Duke Energy Florida is altering its billing process in a way that could spike costs.

Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida reports that on Monday, Public Service Commission Chairman Art Graham called Duke Energy Florida President Alex Glenn for a meeting on Sept. 4 to address concerns on billing-cycle changes brought by two of Tampa Bay’s leading Republican legislators: Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes.

Glenn will attend the meeting, according to a Duke Energy representative.

The change in billing, initially reported in the Tampa Bay Times, is just one of several moves to streamline routes for meter reading in central and northern Florida.

Allowed by PSC rules permitting utilities to change meter-reading routes — Duke implemented the new system in two steps affecting a majority of the utility’s 1.7 million customers.

The first step could have billing cycle extensions of up to 12 days for the monthly cycle for some Duke customers. The second is a permanent reset of the monthly cycle, which starts at the end of an elongated month.

Both Latvala and Brandes raised concerns over one-time cost hikes that would occur during the extended billing cycles, which are taking effect in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

“Although it might be legal for them to squeeze the additional money from customers in this manner, it certainly isn’t moral,” Latvala wrote in a letter to Graham last week.

Duke charges consumers $11.34 for every 100-kilowatt hours used up to 1,000-kilowatt hours. Past that level, the rate increases to $13.70 for every 100-kilowatt hour past the 1,000-kilowatt mark.

Brandes asked Graham to have the PSC arrange for “immediate relief” for Duke customers who are financially affected.

“Regulated utilities cannot be allowed to arbitrarily increase rates outside of the process established by law,” Brandes wrote in a separate letter to Graham.

Duke spokesperson Sterling Ivey told the News Service that the company is determining how many customers will move to the higher rates during the extended billing cycle. Duke will also consider ways to help those affected by the billing change, he added.

“We’ve heard from customers and lawmakers, Ivey said. “We understand the concerns; we’re reviewing what options we may have to assist these customers.”

Ivey suggested rebates could be one method of relief.

Approximately 1 million customers in Central Florida have experienced the change as Duke set new meter-reader routes. About a quarter of that number received bills covering 33 or more days.

In the Big Bend region south of Tallahassee, Turner writes that the changes will be part of the October billing cycle.

New routing already has already provided savings to the company, according to Ivey, as meter readers drove nearly 300,000 fewer miles over the past year compared to earlier years. The route changes could bring savings through staff reductions, he said.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.