Sen. Jeff Brandes enters the fray over Duke Energy billing schedule changes

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Tampa Bay’s two prominent Republican lawmakers have now entered the fray over a story appearing in the Tampa Bay Times about the proposed plan by Duke Energy to adjust the way the utility reads energy meters.

On Friday, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who represents parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, sent a letter to Florida Public Service Commission Chair Art Graham, with copies to the other four Commissioners, requesting him to “investigate this matter and correct any wrongdoing wrought on ratepayers.”

Brandes’ letter follows a similar request on Thursday from Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater.

On Wednesday, an article by Times reporter Ivan Penn, who covers Florida utilities, talked of Duke’s plan to temporarily extend the length of Duke’s billing schedule by as much as 12 days.

Penn suggested the change — legal under state regulations – could result in about 267,000 customers paying higher bills during the adjustment period.

Duke charges utility customers $11.34 for every 100-kilowatt hours used, up to 1,000-kilowatt hours. After that, the charges jump to $13.70 for every 100-kilowatt hours.

“Multiply the difference between the standard rate and the higher fee, and Duke could collect hundreds of thousands of dollars — for nothing,” Penn wrote.

The proposed move prompted Brandes, one of Tampa Bay’s top lawmakers, to issue a letter of protest to Graham.

“If consumers had the choice of multiple utility providers then, actions like those taken by Duke Energy could be met by a change of consumer preference to another provider,” the letter says. “Unfortunately, the State of Florida does not permit free competition among the different utility providers.”

Brandes reminded Graham that it was the duty of the Public Service Commission to “intervene and ensure that regulated utilities do not treat customers unfairly or in a discriminatory manner.”

A Duke spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times that the utility is following the rules set by the state. On Friday, Duke also issued a call to its customers alerting them to billing period changes:

This is an important call from Duke Energy. We will be changing our meter reading and billing schedules for your area, affecting the date your meter is read, the date that you receive your bill, and subsequently the date your bill is due.

These changes will begin with your next bill. While we are taking steps to minimize impact in you may receive a bill which is covering an extended period which might result in a higher than normal bill. This will be a one-time adjustment.

We encourage customers who have billing concerns or would like to discuss available payment options to visit www.duke-energy.com/billingupdate or call 1-800-700-8744.

We apologize for any inconvenient this may cause.

Brandes PSC Letter Duke Energy

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.