WREC Rate Hike: No More Than 7.25%

BROOKSVILLE –
In an era of double-digit utility rate hikes, Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative customers might rest a little easier knowing they won’t be zapped with a double-digit hike next year.

The public cooperative known as WREC won’t settle on a final number until later this month but has set a range of 4.5 to 7.25 percent, said David Lambert, manager of member relations.

The goal is to keep the hike as close to that first number as possible, Lambert said.

“We know everyone is feeling the pain” in this economy, he said.

If the cooperative does decide on a 7.25 percent hike, the cost for 1,000 kilowatt hours – a little less than what the average WREC customer uses each month – would rise from about $113 to about $121.

WREC and the Seminole Electric Cooperative of which it is a part are feeling the pain of a souring economy, too, Lambert said.

WREC is suffering from a record number of foreclosures and the slowed pace of development. The co-op has paid millions for new infrastructure to serve developments that are far behind schedule, Lambert said.

“The meters just aren’t spinning,” Lambert said.

The cost of fuel – natural gas and coal – to produce electricity has decreased slightly, Lambert said.

But CSX Transportation plans to nearly double the fees it charges to move coal by rail to Seminole’s Palatka power plant. That will wipe away much of the savings the cooperative has enjoyed by streamlining its operation, Lambert said.

“It’s been a critical issue for us,” he said.

Seminole has filed a formal complaint against CSX with the federal Surface Transportation Board, contending the increases are unreasonably high.

An increase of 7 percent would still be less than the hikes approved by the state this week for Tampa Electric Co. and Progress Energy, which will raise rates by 12 percent and 25 percent respectively.

Lambert also pointed out that WREC does not have tiered rates that rise with power use. The company also gives back profit to WREC customers, or “members,” through credits on a December bill. The credits are divided up based on the amount of energy used and the duration of membership.

The co-op expects to give back some $14 million this year and roughly the same amount of credits as last year to its more than 71,000 customers in Hernando County, Lambert said.

That’s fine, but any increase hurts, said George Gubitose, first vice-president for the Brookridge Homeowners Association. The retirement community has some 2,700 homes and is served by WREC.

The power co-op already increased rates by 11 percent earlier this year.

“If they’re going up over a half a percent, it’s too high,” Gubitose said. “We have too many fixed-income people here. These people, they don’t have it.”

The new rates will take effect Jan. 1.

How much would WREC bill surge?

Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative hasn’t settled on a final number, but officials say they will keep a rate increase for next year to no more than 7.25 percent. At that percentage, the cost for 1,000 kilowatt hours – a little less than what the average WREC customer uses each month – would rise from about $113 to about $121.

Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286 or lmarrero@hernandotoday.com.

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