Duke Energy seeks $171 million to cover Hurricane Dorian costs

A crew with Duke Engergy works to restore power along County Rd. 635, in Sebring, Florida, after outages caused by Hurricane Irma. [Courtesy: Duke Energy]

More than three months after Hurricane Dorian gave the state a major scare, Duke Energy Florida on Thursday asked regulators to approve collecting $171 million from customers for costs stemming from Dorian and a much-smaller tropical storm.

The Category 5 Dorian, which devastated parts of the Bahamas, did not make landfall in Florida. But Duke said it had to mobilize 7,800 employees and contractors to be able to restore power if the hurricane barreled into the state, as had been initially predicted.

In seeking approval Thursday from the Florida Public Service Commission to recoup costs from customers, Duke detailed its efforts to prepare for the hurricane, which avoided hitting the state when it turned north in early September. 

View of a destroyed building at the Marsh Harbor Port in Grand Abaco Island on September 6, 2019 in the Bahamas. Hurricane Dorian hit the island chain as a category 5 storm battering them for two days. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

“Early forecasts called for Hurricane Dorian to intersect Florida near the I-4 corridor and stall over Central Florida, thus bringing torrential rains to the region,” the filing said. “Based on DEF's (Duke Energy Florida’s) prior experience with the crippling traffic congestion that occurred during Hurricane Irma (in 2017), DEF prudently determined that Hurricane Dorian could materially hinder the movement of restoration and mutual assistance resources to DEF customers within Hurricane Dorian's path. In preparation for this, DEF implemented mobilization and logistics plans to pre-stage resources south of Hurricane Dorian's anticipated path. DEF's goal with respect to these plans was to facilitate the allocation and mobilization of restoration and assistance resources to the impacted areas immediately following Hurricane Dorian's exit from the areas.”

Duke wants to begin collecting the money from customers in March. Under the proposal, residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month would see monthly bills increase $5.34, with the increase lasting for a year, the utility said in a news release. Commercial and industrial customers would see increases between 2.6 percent and 7.7 percent.

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Utilities commonly use 1,000 kilowatt hours for residential customers as a benchmark, though actual electricity use varies widely. Duke has about 1.8 million customers in the state, including in the Tampa Bay region, Central Florida and North Florida.

Regulators in the past have regularly allowed utilities to recoup storm costs from customers, and the issue is addressed in a 2017 rate agreement reached by Duke.

Duke said in the news release that Dorian-related costs are estimated at $171 million, while costs for Tropical Storm Nestor, which hit the Panhandle in October, were $400,000. While Dorian did not make landfall in the state, it was blamed for knocking out power to about 24,000 Duke customers, mostly in Central Florida, the utility said.