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Fla. utilities seek rate increases to recover Hurricane Irma, storm costs

Two of Florida's major utilities have filed with state regulators to recover costs incurred during recovery efforts for Hurricane Irma, which made landfall during the extremely active 2017 hurricane season, and other recent storms.

Duke Energy Corp. subsidiary Duke Energy Florida LLC and Emera Inc. subsidiary Tampa Electric Co. filed separate rate requests with the Florida Public Service Commission Dec. 28, with the Duke utility seeking $513 million and Tampa Electric asking for $87.4 million. The funds will be used to pay for restoration efforts, but also replenish depleted storm restoration funds. If approved, both of the utilities' customers will see the increase starting with the March 2018 billing cycle.

In separate press releases, Tampa Electric said the increase would amount to $4 per month for the average customer who uses 1,000 kWh, while Duke Energy said the average customer will see an additional charge of about $5.20.

Hurricane Irma battered the west coast of Florida in September, leaving millions without power and at times engulfing the entire state. The massive storm was among three devastating hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. during the 2017 season, including Harvey, which hit Texas; and Maria, which struck the Caribbean and Puerto Rico.

Duke Energy said its restoration efforts following Irma were the largest mobilization in the company's history. At the storm's height, 1.3 million customers were without power, but the company said storm hardening efforts in the years before Irma were crucial to preventing even wider outages.

The company reported that restoration costs associated with Irma are approximately $462 million. As for the storm restoration fund, which contained $54 million before Irma, Duke Energy is seeking to top that fund back up to its February 2012 level of $132 million through this rate request. The rate increase will be spread out over 36 months instead of the typical 12-month period to avoid a $15 per 1,000 kWh storm restoration surcharge, and will appear on customers' bills until February 2021. (Florida PSC Docket No. 20170272-EI)

Tampa Electric's rate request included hurricane and tropical storm restoration efforts in 2015 through 2017, which includes storms Erika, Colin, Hermine, Matthew and Irma. The request details the storm preparations and restoration efforts undertaken by the utility before, during and after each storm. Hurricane Irma is responsible for an estimated $77.7 million, the majority of Tampa Electric's request. If approved, the new rate will remain in place until Tampa Electric's storm restoration fund is replenished to its Oct. 31, 2013, level of $55.9 million. (Florida PSC Docket No. 20170271-EI)