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After the Low Temperatures, Expect High Bills

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, January 14, 2010 1:44 PM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Utility Companies, Power Outages, Freezing, Hypothermia, FPL

Freezing temperatures in the south bring assurances of federal aid to keep the utilities on and a clarification of the disconnect policy.

As Temperatures Rise 

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IMAGE SOURCE: front on a tree/ Winter Park Observer Web site

As Florida’s temperatures start to rise after the most brutal cold spell in more than 20 years, the long-term effects are being seen.

Two deaths in South Florida resulted from the cold, as a man was hospitalized suffering from hypothermia and frostbite in his Miami apartment, reports the Palm Beach Post.  And a homeless man in Hollywood, Florida was found dead near Young Circle.

The Salvation Army in Broward County is $10,000 over budget after 10 days of keeping the shelters open.

Schools Saw Interruptible Service

Florida’s Pasco County saw 11 schools without power this week as part of “interruptible service” agreements with the school district and two power companies.

The school district saves money by agreeing to let Progress Energy and TECO Energy shut off their power temporarily during times of high demand. The schools say they’ve saved more than $300,000 since 2008.

“This is a very rare incidence,” said Heather Fiorentino, the Pasco Superintendent.

Still, some parents were less than understanding, checking students out of school because the cold temperatures made the students less than productive.

Schools in Charlotte County have that same power agreement with Florida Power & Light.

Palm Beach County parents were fuming that the temperature within the classrooms was 52 degrees.

No-Disconnect Policy

IB member and attorney Gabrielle D’Alemberte, writing from Miami, reports that some individuals who went without power had to check into hotels.

A Tamarac, Florida neighborhood reportedly went without power for two days and more than 18,000 Florida Power & Light Co. customers experienced outages due to the high demand for electricity.

FPL spokeswoman, Helena Poleo, tells IB News that with 4.5 million customers all over Florida, more than 99% of customers were with power last night despite the record demand. 1,300 crew were out and Poleo says only 30 people had no power Wednesday night.

The spokeswoman says FPL has a formal policy of not disconnecting the power when the temperature is between 35 to 40 degrees.

“We look every day and basically take into account the temperature, wind, rain and weather conditions before making a determination," she says.

Poleo says the utility has not disconnected customers and there have been no rolling blackouts, but the system is stressed and there could be outages from pressure on the grid. Transformers will create an outage to protect the grid during heavy use.

Naples News says FPL kicked in its no-disconnect policy for delinquent customers in Southwest Florida during the bone-chilling nighttime hours. No word on how long the no-disconnect policy will last but the utility says it is monitoring the temperatures.

FPL serves 35 counties from St. John’s in the north to Collier County.

Ironically, the disconnect issue is surfacing as state regulators, under pressure from politicians and consumer advocates, Wednesday rejected more than 99 percent of Florida Power & Light Co.'s request to raise base rates by $1 billion this year.

Another utility, the Lee County Electric Cooperative, serving 194,000 customers in Lee and Collier counties, does not have a no-disconnect policy. But a utility spokeswoman says the cooperative decided not to turn the power off for delinquent customers.

In Jacksonville, energy utility, JEA, says it will not turn off your power if the temperatures are below freezing for more than four hours.

Federal Help

Health and Human Services is providing an additional $1.2 billion to states to help low-income families with the high energy bills. The money represents grants to states, tribes, and territories under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

“The release of these funds will assist millions of Americans who may not be in the position to afford heating costs during these cold winter months,” HHS Secretary Sebelius said. “More low-income families will now have the chance to use their income for other necessities.”

The number of households receiving heating assistance reached record levels for the second year in a row, increasing from 6.1 million to 8.3 million as a bad economy and job losses mean more Americans need help paying their utility bills.

Expect Higher Rates

Residents may receive more than a cold shock when they see their bills later this month.

Tampa Electric Co. (TECO) customers could pay three times as much each night to heat their house as they would during the first 11 days of a normal January, reports the Tampa Tribune.

While it costs 23 cents an hour to run a heat pump when its 55 degrees, the rate rises to 85 cents an hour if it is 33 degrees outside. And the increased use could push customers over the 1,000 kilowatt hour threshold that triggers higher electric rate tiers.

In 35 Florida counties served by Progress Energy Florida, customers can expect their bills to rise about $10 a day during the cold spell, which has lasted nine or 10 days so far.

A little bit of good news - FPL’s Riviera Beach Manatee Webcam shows is a live video of the mammals as they actively swim near an energy plant to stay warm in the Lake Worth Lagoon (Intracoastal Waterway), one of the most popular gathering spots for the species on Florida’s east coast. #


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