By Monique Selman, business owner
Floridians are all too familiar with pricey utility bills – especially during these hot and humid summer months that scream for air conditioning. While the cost of powering a typical Florida household is plenty enough, it can become astronomical when you’re powering a business.
As the founder of a small Florida business called Albany Homes Construction, Inc., I’ve had to contend with the mounting costs and difficulties of staying in operation. A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, many of my fellow small business owners are simply trying to keep their doors open to provide for their employees and help rebuild the state’s economy.
The last thing we need is a growing stack of bills to pay. But now it looks like our power costs could soon rise even more. Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility, is trying to raise its rates significantly.
Like most business owners, I’m all for companies making a fair profit for the important services they provide. However, FPL is proposing the most expensive rate increase in state history.
The utility plans to increase residential rates by 19% over the next four years, while also raising rates for small businesses like mine by 24%.
An increase of any kind can be harmful for the many small businesses that are just trying to get by, let alone one that’s so drastic. The 19% residential rate increase also presents problems for small businesses. In my industry, for example, it would hurt by making the homes we build less affordable for prospective homebuyers.
There are many companies in the residential construction space, which is why businesses like mine have to work hard to provide quality work at competitive prices. But that’s not the case for FPL. The 5.6 million Florida homes and businesses who make up their customers don’t get to shop around for electricity. Unlike nearly every other business Floridians encounter, FPL receives a guaranteed profit on everything it sells or builds – and they now want that profit to be even bigger.
To make matters worse, the utility’s proposed increase doesn’t come with improvements that customers like me want or need. Florida families and businesses are looking for reliable service at a reasonable rate. We don’t want to pay more for the unnecessary platinum-level service FPL proposes to develop. FPL can plan to overbuild the grid in this way because it receives guaranteed profits on every dollar it spends.
The utility’s plans increase its profits and benefit its own interests, not the interests of the Floridians it serves. I moved to Florida in 2000 from the United Kingdom, where customers experience more protection from situations like this.
Utilities are largely privatized in the U.K., but their profits are regulated more fairly to keep them from profiting excessively at the expense of British citizens.
If FPL wants a huge raise, it needs to provide services that would benefit its customers. Increasing underground service across the state would improve reliability, especially during inclement weather. What families and businesses could also use are meaningful energy efficiency programs, which are excellent investments that actually help us save energy and money.
Unfortunately, a recent white paper showed that FPL ranks 51st out of 52 utilities for capturing energy savings through energy efficiency. As a member of the City of Coral Gables Sustainability Advisory Board, I can attest to how important it is for local businesses and residents to have access to more efficient energy.
The 2.5 million small businesses in Florida are a powerhouse for job creation and economic benefit, and elected officials and state regulators must ensure that the services that power them remain affordable. I hope the Florida Public Service Commission protects Florida’s best interests by determining what rate is most reasonable for families and businesses to pay, not what is most profitable for a monopoly utility.
Otherwise, my fellow small business owners within FPL’s service territory will surely feel the consequences of this rate hike proposal – one that is simply too much, too soon.
Monique Selman is the founder of Albany Homes Construction, Inc. She is an FPL customer who resides in Coral Gables.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.