LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – After a summer of high temperatures and high electric bills, thousands of people are demanding more affordable prices from Lakeland Electric.
As of Thursday afternoon, nearly 5,400 people had signed a petition started by Lakeland realtor Carly Cashman-Crespo.
“Our electric bill just went up again and it’s mid-$400s,” she said about the cost to power her single-family home every month.
She insists she has taken steps to be more energy-efficient, including replacing her air conditioner. Still, the bill keeps going up.
“The conclusion was always, ‘well, so what can you do?’ And I don’t love that. I think that it’s important to remember that we have a voice and we should use it sometimes,” she said.
That’s why she started the petition this month titled “Make Lakeland Electric More Affordable for ALL Lakelanders.”
The reason why her bill, and the bills of the potentially thousands of people who signed the petition, went up is due to two city commission-approved fuel charge increases this summer.
“All the negative variables that exist right now are not in our favor in terms of all the tendencies both with absence of supply as well as cost of fuel and high temperatures,” Mayor Bill Mutz said during the Aug. 1 meeting where commissioners approved the second increase.
Commissioner Stephanie Madden expressed concern about the depletion of the city’s fuel reserve funds, which can be used in moments of crisis, including during and after hurricanes.
“We have gone through all of our reserves and we have used every financial tool available to us before we even went to our customers to raise those prices,” said Cathryn Lacy, utilities marketing manager at Lakeland Electric.
Customers, including Cashman-Crespo, have been asking why the fuel charge has not decreased if the price of gas at the pump has gone down.
“Fuel that you buy at the gas pump comes from crude oil. It’s sold in a completely different market. Natural gas comes to us through a pipeline and it’s completely separate pricing,” said Lacy.
What Cashman-Crespo is asking for is transparency.
“If there’s no way that they can change it, we need to understand why and if there is a way they can change it, let’s start troubleshooting and brainstorming what we can do to make this affordable for everyone here,” she said.
Lacy provided a study from the Florida Municipal Electric Association that shows in July, Lakeland Electric customers’ bills were lower than those in most of Florida, including Tampa and Bartow.
For information on how Lakeland Electric customers could reduce their energy usage or if you need help paying your bill, you can visit Lakeland Electric’s website.