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Florida Public Service Commission denies relief petition as thousands may have power cut amid pandemic

Coronavirus

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News Services) – Hundreds of thousands of people behind on their electric bills could face having their power cut off after state utility regulators said no to a plan Tuesday that would have prevented the cutoffs until the end of the year.

The utilities assert cutting someone’s power in a pandemic is their last option.

As many as 600,000 utility customers behind on their payments are now eligible to have their power cut.

At a virtual meeting, activists asked the Florida Public Service Commission to profit cutoffs until at least the end of the year.

“Most states in the U.S. have some sort of protection to prevent customers from being disconnected from their power as a result of this pandemic. Florida is one of only 15 states that does not. No family should be forced to go without power,” said Zach Cosner with Florida Conservation Voters.

The utilities’ message: Call us now if you are behind and don’t wait until we send you a notice that we are cutting off your power.

“Bill payment assistance is available now but may not in the future. The proposed rule may also allow past due balances to grow to the point where they become ultimately unmanageable for our customers,” said Jeff Wahlen, an attorney with Tampa Electric.

In the end, Public Service Commissioner Donald Polmann said just because utilities can now cut off power, it doesn’t mean they should

“We are not saying that disconnections are an appropriate thing to do,” said Polmann.

Earth Justice attorney Jacob Luebkemann said many are now at risk.

“Not having electricity means you don’t have air conditioning and that can be totally dangerous for people that are having chronic illness. That are vulnerable populations whether they be the elderly or the very young,” said Luebkemann.

Earth Justice and others said they will keep looking for ways to help people in need keep the lights on.

Florida Power and Light, Gulf Power, TECO, and Duke energy Florida all said cutoffs were a last resort.

FPL said it is offering up to $200 credits when people who can’t pay find a way.

Its sister company, Gulf Power, does not have the same credits.

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