OUC bumps power rates 4th time this year, blames natural gas charges

While largely ignoring Sierra Club’s “Dirty Truth About OUC” media blitz, the Orlando Utilities Commission formally approved on Tuesday – its fourth hike in a year for electric rates.

At the start of this year, OUC was charging $109.50 for residential customers using the nearly average amount of 1,000-kilowatt-hours of electricity in a month. The rate is now at $137 and will climb to $147 on Jan. 1 as a result of the utility’s approval. No hikes are expected later in 2023, according to OUC.

“This is fuel and it’s a straight pass-through to our customers,” said OUC general manager Clint Bullock, seeking to clarify that the utility does not tack on additional charges or profit for the natural gas and coal purchased to run power plants. “There’s no return that’s built into it.”

A spike in the cost of natural gas has brought a statewide jump in rates among municipal utilities such as OUC and by investor-owned providers such as Duke Energy. The municipal or city-owned power providers have used their local authorities to quickly raise rates, while Duke, Florida Power & Light Co. and other private providers are cycling through state approvals for significant increases next year.

In a rare, full-page advertisement Tuesday by Sierra Club in the Orlando Sentinel, the environmental group criticized OUC for not being more aggressive in adopting more price-stable renewable energy, including solar energy.

“OUC is lagging behind in clean energy improvements, and now they want you to pay more for doing less,” the ad states, going on to urge the utility to drop plans for further reliance on natural gas. “Say no to another rate hike,” it concludes. Similar paid advertising messaging appeared on the Sentinel’s website home page.

Sierra members have spoken frequently during past OUC board meetings as critics of the use of coal and natural gas and as advocates of solar and increased energy efficiency, but they did not do so Tuesday prior to the adoption of the higher rate.

OUC is phasing out the long-standing use of coal at its towering, twin plants in east Orange County by 2027 as part of mostly weening itself from fossil fuels by 2050.

In going down that path of clean energy, OUC leaders also Tuesday announced plans for a nearly $4 million, 2 megawatt solar plant that will float on a Florida Department of Transportation retention pond. It would be rated for making enough electricity for more than 200 homes.

The pond is in east Orlando south of Pershing Avenue and near a major OUC operations center.

OUC is increasingly keen on floating solar systems that would be distributed widely around its Orlando-based service area and potentially would be equipped with large batteries, allowing storage of daytime energy for nighttime consumption.

OUC’s manager of emerging technologies, Justin Kramer, said floating systems cost less than rooftop solar and more than conventional utility solar systems. But with ramping up usage of floating systems, costs should decrease, he said.

The system near Pershing Avenue would be the largest in Florida and third largest in the U.S., Kramer said.