The past few weeks have brought the coldest days of winter to Okaloosa and Walton counties. For some residents, the only way to stay warm is to reach their boiling point over skyrocketing power bills from Florida Power & Light.
With few other options, Mary Brewster and many other residents have taken the extreme step of turning off their breakers for parts of the day and going without heat and other creature comforts.
It’s a chilling thought that someone would be forced to make that choice through no fault of their own.
January was the first month former Gulf Power customers in the Panhandle made payments to FPL after the companies merged last year. It also was the first month a rate increase took hold for FPL customers.
As reported by the Daily News’ Sierra Rains on Feb. 4, Brewster, who has lived in DeFuniak Springs for four years, said her bill went from $184 in December to $291 in January. Her February bill is projected to be $394.
“… That’s going to be half of my (Social Security) check. I’ll be able to pay electric and rent and that’s it,” she said. “I only turn on the breaker to get hot water so I can take a shower and then that’s it.”
The Florida Public Service Commission in October unanimously approved a four-year rate settlement allowing FPL to raise rates in 2022 to generate an additional $692 million in revenue, followed by increases in 2023 that will another generate $560 million.
According to FPL, the revenue will support investments in cleaner and more reliable energy. All FPL customers saw their bills increase, but Northwest Florida residents are currently paying more than the rest of the state because of “the initial difference in costs of serving existing FPL and Gulf Power customers.”
Brewster is among thousands voicing their concerns on social media. Angel Minnis of Crestview created the Facebook group “COOP Initiative of Northwest Florida.” The group had almost 400 members last week, some posting screenshots of their bills topping out at $1,000.
Minnis said her bill went up almost $250 to $797. Minnis compared a previous Gulf Power bill to her current FPL bill and observed a 36% difference in base rate charges including fuel costs.
“How are people paying this? It’s insane,” Minnis said. “… It’s heartbreaking.”
We wholeheartedly agree.
Electricity is an essential, just like food and shelter. It’s not a luxury unless you’re a survival expert. It’s essential for providing air conditioning against the extreme Florida heat of summer, for heat during those infrequent cold days of winter, and for powering our lights and stoves.
If FPL officials thought their new Panhandle customers would go silently, they underestimated their resolve.
A petition started by Northwest Florida residents had more than 9,000 signatures as of Feb. 2.
“The residents of this community were misled and lied to about how this merger would affect us,” the website said. “There are many residents in this community living on fixed incomes such as Social Security. Should they have to choose between being warm or having their electric cut off?”