Low natural gas prices to benefit Vero and FPL electric customers

VERO BEACH — The City of Vero Beach announced Tuesday that it would reduce rates by about 3 percent beginning with January meter readings, and the same low prices fueling that reduction should also benefit Florida Power and Light customers in 2011.

Vero Beach Interim City Manager praised Acting Electric Utility Director John Lee for his “hard work” getting customers’ rates down from the $158 for 1,000 kilowatt hours at last summer’s high to the $113 where they will be on January and February bills.

Lee said that the rate reduction, even though it’s only about 3 percent, would “return to our customers $5.6 million over the next 12 months.”

This statement seems to support the assertions of utility activists Dr. Stephen Faherty and CPA Glenn Heran that high electric rates are draining $18 million to $20 million annually out of Indian River County. With this latest reduction, Vero rates will still be about 20 percent higher than FP&L.

About $33 of the reduction seen over the past 12 months was due to the city exiting the Florida Municipal Power Agency’s All Requirements project and going with the Orlando Utilities Commission instead.

The balance has been attributed to lower than projected prices for natural gas over the past 12 months.

Lee said the analysts in Florida, which Vero relies upon for market data, expect natural gas rates to remain low in the short-term and long-term, so the city hopes to keep that $113 per 1,000 kilowatt rate for all of 2011 should that pan out.

FP&L, which derives 75 percent of its power from natural gas, has also projected lower fuel costs, which in turn could benefit its 4.5 million customers in Florida.

FP&L rates are currently $92.69 for 1,000 kilowatt hours.

“Since FPL filed its 2011 fuel and capacity projections with the Public Service Commission on Sept. 1, natural gas prices have declined significantly. In light of this, we have re-filed our 2011 fuel and capacity projections, which will reduce the impact of these costs on our customers,” said FP&L spokesperson Jackie Anderson of the Juno Beach office.

FP&L rates are set by the Florida Public Service Commission, which is currently reviewing a rate request from FP&L. That rate request has been affected by the lower fuel costs.

“The actual total bill numbers will depend on several PSC decisions that have yet to be made. We do expect our bill to continue to be the very lowest of Florida’s 55 electric utilities,” Anderson said.

For Vero customers whose meters are read prior to Jan. 1, the new rates will not kick in until February. Customers whose meters are read after Jan. 1 will get the new rates on their January bill.

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