Florida’s electricity delivers lower cost zap

Thanks to upgraded infrastructure and newer homes, The Villages boasts some of the lowest power bills in the country.

THE VILLAGES — Go ahead.

Turn the home thermostat down a couple degrees when the temperature gets a little uncomfortable.

Don’t feel too guilty, either, considering residents and businesses in The Villages and elsewhere in Florida on average pay the lowest price per kilowatt hour of electricity than all but six other states, according to the latest price comparisons available through the federal Energy Information Administration.

Electricity consumption is a big concern now, considering temperatures this month in The Villages are averaging nearly 5 degrees higher than normal, AM-640 WVLG weather forecaster Karl Loeper said.

“The highest was 98 degrees on July 6 and 8,” he said.

Despite the heat wave, electrical costs in Florida are some of the lowest in the nation because utility companies are enhancing their infrastructure and methods of operations, working with consumers to help them save. Home construction also plays a favorable factor.

Watch Out for Spikes

Cheaper electricity prices in Florida come with a caveat, however.

When outdoor temperatures are about 5 degrees higher than normal, just maintaining an internal temperature of 78 degrees in a 1,850-square-foot home may cost the typical residential consumer about $2 more per day, said Joseph Pietrzak, Duke Energy Florida’s products and services manager.

“While several days of unusually hot weather can lead to a noticeable increase in your electric bill, an extended period of scorching summer sun can make some customers’ energy bills spike,” he said.

Controlling that spike in The Villages may be as simple as requesting a free home energy audit, either through Duke Energy Florida, which powers homes and businesses in the Lady Lake area of the community; or SECO Energy, the electric distribution cooperative that serves most of the community in Sumter County.

At SECO, for instance, the co-op relies on technology such as infrared cameras, as well as historic use comparisons, to find the best way for member-customers to save energy dollars, said Kathryn Gloria, the co-op’s vice president of corporate communications and energy services.

“Helping our members save money is a high priority,” she said. “Members can contact us to book a free energy audit. A qualified energy services specialist will assess the home, inspecting windows, doors, appliances, heating and cooling units and more, all to pinpoint where energy dollars are wasted.”

Energy Efficient Homes

Several factors account for the state’s cheaper electricity prices, said Stanley Geberer, a senior associate at Orlando-based Fishkind & Associates, one of the state’s most respected economic consulting firms.

“It has been recognized and well-documented that the cost of living in Florida is lower than a lot of other places across the country,” he said. “And the cost of living is inclusive of energy costs, home heating, as well as real estate taxes, transportation costs, gasoline, and the cost of housing in general.”

Over time, the quality of Florida homes and their energy efficiency has increased, he said.

Take for example home insulation factors, Geberer said. They now have an R-value factor in excess of 30, compared with 8 to 11 just years ago. The same is true with higher SEER ratings for today’s air conditioners.

“The efficiency of these machines has improved,” he said. “Then they added to that variable stage compressors, variable speed air handlers. The whole air-conditioning process has gotten more efficient. The thermal efficiency of the home has gotten much better. All of that gets wrapped into the cost of living index.”

Consequently, homeowners are getting a better deal through improved energy efficiency, Geberer said.

“The average household consumption of kilowatt hours has been gradually declining over time despite the fact that the average home size has been increasing,” he said. “If you do an adjusted per-thousand, per-square foot, you might find a more dramatic improvement in efficiency of energy usage in Florida homes.”

While numbers are not readily available, Geberer’s statement makes sense to Rusty Payton, CEO of the Florida Home Builders Association.

“You’re dealing with better construction technology; everything from wrapping the envelope to energy efficient windows to appliances,” he said. “We are much more efficient nowadays.”

That also is true for homes built in The Villages, he added.

“Absolutely, because a lot of the standards we’re talking about are embedded in Florida’s Building Code,” he said.

Pricing Breakdown

Florida’s residential electricity prices averaged 11.07 cents per kilowatt hour in April, the seventh lowest price in the country, the federal agency’s data showed.

In comparison, Tennessee’s price averaged 10.22 cents per kilowatt hour. Hawaii, at 26.93 cents, and Connecticut, at 21.15 cents, had the highest prices.

One kilowatt hour cost SECO customer 11.36 cents, with Duke Energy Florida customers paying 11.63 cents.

That means SECO customers pay $113.60 and Duke Energy Florida customers $116.30 on the average monthly residential consumption of 1,000 kilowatt hours.

Since January 2014, SECO’s monthly bill has decreased seven times to the current level from $127.75, according to the nonprofit company’s data.

Improving Infrastructure

In its effort to improve energy efficiency, Duke Energy Florida has embarked on a major investment at its Crystal River power plant, which feeds Villages-area consumers and businesses.

Construction is well underway on a 1,640-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas plant at the site about 60 miles west of The Villages, the company reports.

If all goes as planned, 820 megawatts are expected to come online in spring 2018, with the second phase expected to go live in December that year.

The investor-owned utility is building the plant during a time when natural gas prices are at market lows, with an abundance of the commodity available throughout well fields in the United States.

“Building highly efficient natural gas plants is part of Duke Energy’s balanced approach to meeting future demand for reliable and increasingly clean electricity,” Alex Glenn, Duke Energy Florida’s state president, said earlier this year during the project’s ground-breaking ceremony.

Because it is a distribution utility, SECO Energy maintains a focus on new and existing infrastructure.

For the year ended Dec. 31, the nonprofit, member-owned utility reported 12,104 miles of energy power lines across a 2,000-square-mile service area.

To ensure reliability and efficiency, the utility inspected 19,923 electric poles, replaced 3,208 of them and worked on another 2,757 during that time period, the company reported. It also conducted 10,956 underground inspections, which is key to The Villages because its electricity is powered through underground lines.

In another move to ensure reliability and efficiency, SECO Energy also installed 70.2 miles of fiber optic cable, which enables the utility to better monitor the flow of electricity to its member-customers.

David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9066, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.