Electric rates rise in Leesburg due to high gas costs, city manager says

The high cost of natural gas is bleeding into a dramatic increase in electric utility rates

Electric rates keep rising in Leesburg, and some homeowners say they can’t afford any more hikes.

LEESBURG, Fla. – Electric rates keep rising in Leesburg, and some homeowners say they can’t afford any more hikes.

Some families say they are paying hundreds of dollars more than what they pay on average each month. Now, the city is considering another rate increase at the end of September.

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“Our average bill is around $350. Last month was over $600, and the most recent bill I received was over $700,” Leesburg resident Jackie Croft said.

Jackie Croft has lived in her home in Leesburg for 26 years. She said she hasn’t seen her power bill this high in a long time.

“Well, you get mad, but with everything going on, you just don’t know,” Croft said. “It’s sad because a lot of people can’t afford that.”

City Manager Al Minner said it’s frustrating for residents and the city of Leesburg.

“We understand it’s a difficult time,” Minner said. “These are circumstances that every utility faces. The electric industry is electrically complex.”

Minner said the problem is also complex. One of the main drivers is the rising cost of natural gas, which makes up nearly 80% of Florida’s generation portfolio, according to Minner.

“BTU, British thermal unit, it’s how we measure gas. So British thermal unit to natural gas is like a gallon to gasoline. So $2 to 2.50 to $3 bucks, that’s what we thought it was going to cost,” Minner said. “That number jumped off the chart, and we’re paying anywhere between $9 and $10.”

Minner said there are reasons the prices are rising. Inflation caused by federal policies and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine are part of the problem, he said.

He said the city does the best they can to keep costs low, but with the cost of natural gas going up exponentially, they can’t keep up.

Economists have pointed to pandemic-era lockdowns, federal energy policies and increased government spending as some of the factors behind this increase in energy prices.

It’s left Leesburg with a roughly $9 million deficit, Minner said. It will keep growing if they don’t raise rates.

“This is how we’re going to have to manage it,” Minner said. ‘If we do nothing and just keep the power cost adjustment where it is right now, it grows to $30 million.”

The city manager said there is no quick fix. The biggest change will come when and if the price of natural gas comes down. In the meantime, the city is looking at some options for those struggling to pay their bills.

“We will probably look at suspending late penalties if you miss a payment,” Minner said. “We will look at what some of the other utilities are going to be doing.”

Croft made improvements to her home a few years ago, upgrading windows, the air conditioning unit and more to cut her energy costs. She said even with those changes in place now, it is not helping lower her bill.

The rising rates are leaving some families in a tough spot, while they wait for relief.

“When we can give back to our customers we do, and we when we need more, we take a little more,” Minner said. “Unfortunately, you know, we’re in extraordinary times, (and) these are crazy, crazy gas prices.”

It’s likely the power bill will become even more expensive in the coming weeks. The Leesburg City Commission will consider increasing the base rate from $102 to $108 by passing a resolution later this month.

This also comes as the Orlando Utilities Commission Board of Commissioners approved an increase in electric rate charges for residential and commercial customers across Orange and Osceola counties at a meeting on Tuesday.

Experts with the American Petroleum Institute criticized current federal energy policies in a letter to the U.S. president’s office earlier this year that presented suggestions to lower nationwide energy costs.

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About the Author:

Catherine, born and raised in Central Florida, joined News 6 in April 2022.