Lights out: 110,000 customers in FL disconnected from power through Oct. 31

Credit: Diane Rado

Investor-owned power companies in Florida have issued more than 700,000 disconnect notices to their residential and commercial customers for non-payment during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data collected by the Florida Public Service Commission through the end of October.

The disconnect notices resulted in power cutoffs for 103,268 residential customers and 7,396 commercial customers of Florida Power and Light Co. (FPL), Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co. (TECO),and Peoples Gas, those being investor-owned utilities regulated by the Public Service Commission.

Gulf Power and Florida City Gas, also regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC), issued no disconnect notices despite having roughly 27,000 customers in arrears for more than 90 days.

Most but not all of the households and businesses under disconnect notices were able to avoid being cut off or were able to get their power restarted — on their own or with public and private aid. Through the end of October, 18,270 were not, according to the data provided to the PSC by the utility companies. November data is due at the end of this month.

Florida has no rules against disconnecting customers from power during the pandemic, even if they can demonstrate hardship as a direct result of COVID-19. The Public Service Commission on Oct. 6 voted down a petition for an emergency moratorium sought by the environmental law organization Earthjustice on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Florida and a Dade County couple claiming to be in dire financial straits.

The National Energy Assistance Directors Association reports that Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oregon, Virginia, and West Virginia have no moratoria in place to prevent power cutoffs during the pandemic, and that Colorado and Hawaii plan to let theirs expire at the end of this month.

Utilities in Florida voluntarily suspended disconnections for non-payment starting in March, when COVID-19 took hold in Florida. In September, Duke, TECO and Peoples Gas resumed power cutoffs, followed by Florida Power and Light.

The utility companies report at the end of October they were carrying $79 million in arrears for unpaid residential and commercial power bills.