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FPL to seek $1.1 billion from customers to cover Hurricane Ian costs

Donna E. Natale Planas
Miami Herald

After pouring workers and equipment into restoring electricity after Hurricane Ian, Florida Power & Light expects to seek approval to recoup about $1.1 billion from customers, officials said Friday.

It was not immediately clear when FPL will file a proposal at the Florida Public Service Commission — or how the proposal would affect customers’ monthly bills.

But utilities have traditionally been allowed to recover costs from customers after hurricanes, and a rate agreement approved last year by the commission contemplates FPL being able to make such a proposal.

About $220 million of the $1.1 billion would be used to replenish a storm reserve, Kirk Crews, executive vice president and chief financial officer of NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent company, said Friday during a third-quarter earnings call with analysts.

Ian made landfall Sept. 28 as a Category 4 hurricane in Lee and Charlotte counties before crossing the state. FPL provides electricity in some of the areas hardest hit by the storm, including parts of Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and DeSoto counties. It also, for example, serves much of Volusia County, which sustained damage after Ian went through Central Florida.

A document that was part of Friday’s earnings call said more than 2.1 million FPL customers in 32 counties lost power because of the storm.

FPL and other utilities brought in workers from other states to help restore power and rebuild damaged electrical infrastructure. Crews said FPL assembled about 20,000 workers for the effort.

In a prepared statement Friday, John Ketcham, chairman, president and chief executive officer of NextEra Energy, said power was restored to “essentially all affected customers within eight days.”

“We believe these results were enabled by the valuable investments we have made to create a smarter, stronger and more storm-resilient energy grid together with the efforts of our team and all of those who provided mutual assistance,” Ketcham said.

Depending on the timing, the restoration costs could add to electric bills that are already expected to increase next year for FPL customers. Factors such as increased base electric rates and high natural-gas costs are driving up bills for customers of FPL and other utilities. Prices of natural gas, which is used to fuel power plants, have been particularly volatile.

Utilities in the past have been able to file interim proposals that allow them to begin recovering storm-related costs. They later return to the Public Service Commission for what is known as a “true-up” process to nail down the final costs.

The commission on Tuesday is expected to take up issues related to costs incurred by FPL and the former Gulf Power Co. — which is now part of FPL — in 2020’s Hurricane Sally, Hurricane Isaias, Hurricane Zeta and Tropical Storm Eta.

Jim Saunders | News Service of Florida