Gulf Power’s request to recoup coronavirus-related costs from customers challenged

The state Office of Public Counsel has gone to the Florida Supreme Court to challenge a regulatory decision that could ultimately help Gulf Power Co. pass along coronavirus-related costs to customers.

The Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility issues, filed a notice of appeal late Wednesday as a first step in challenging the decision last month by the Florida Public Service Commission.

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The commission decision allows Gulf to start an accounting process for costs of safety-related measures and bad debt from customers not paying bills during the pandemic.

Gulf in the future could return to the commission to seek approval to recoup the costs from customers.

The notice of appeal, as is common, did not detail the arguments that the Office of Public Counsel will make at the Supreme Court.

But during a July 7 hearing at the commission, the Office of Public Counsel argued customers shouldn’t be responsible for potentially picking up all of the utility’s pandemic-related costs.

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Associate Public Counsel Stephanie Morse pointed, in part, to Gulf’s profitability.

But commissioners Julie Brown and Donald Polmann pointed to the unique situation with the pandemic, which has caused businesses to close, residents to lose jobs and Gulf to have to take steps to protect its workers from the virus.

Polmann said commissioners should take a “broad view,” with the utility able to present what it sees as pandemic-related costs.

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