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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Power bills for street lamps confuse Island cities

Faced with a recent Florida Power & Light rebate of $23,000 to the Tingley Memorial Library in Bradenton Beach for excess electricity charges, along with a claim by Pahokee, Fla., that it's been overcharged some $10 million by the same company, Island cities may soon consider the following classified ad.

"Help Wanted for Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach: Electric bill reader and explainer. Doctorate degree in rocket science or related field helpful but not required. Will also consider recent high school graduate. Ability to understand Florida Power & Light bills and rates and how they are derived, and translate same into understandable English a must. Apply at any city hall."

While the above advertisement might be a bit far-fetched, those who pay FPL bills for Island cities say the power bills, particularly for street lights, are extremely confusing.

FPL bills municipalities separately for various electrical usage, including street lights.

In Anna Maria, City Treasurer Diane Percycoe said she has discussed the city's bill with FPL representatives on numerous occasions, but finds FPL explanations of charges and how they are determined difficult to understand.

"It can be confusing because FPL seems to charge a different rate for street lights" than other electric service, Percycoe said. "And there are so many parts to each bill," she added.

Because FPL owns the 179 street lights it claims it has in Anna Maria, a power bill can also be expensive.

According to the FPL's own 92-page rate sheet, the company charges a flat $5.51 per month for each 70-watt, high-pressure sodium vapor street light with an illumination power of 5,800 lumens or less. The flat rate is based upon an average monthly electric usage of 29 kilowatt hours for a 70-watt street lamp. Higher wattage lamps are charged at a higher average rate.

A business customer using just 29 kwh of electricity in one month would pay just $2.56 to FPL.

Included in the $5.51 per 70-watt lamp is $3.55 for "fixtures," $1.36 for "maintenance," and $.60 for energy non-fuel.

In addition, FPL charges for a concrete pole or wood pole for the lamp, and adds an energy conservation-cost- recovery charge, a capacity payment recovery charge, an environmental cost recovery charge, a fuel charge, a franchise charge, and a gross receipts tax increase charge.

Anna Maria's street light bill for June 2003 was $1,053.22 just for electricity, but because of all the extra charges, the final bill was $1,332.19.

By comparison, an Anna Maria residential user would pay just $383 for the same amount of electricity.

Confused?

Maybe you should be, unless you're a rocket scientist.

Don Sayer of FPL agreed with Percycoe that FPL bills for street lamps and other electrical usage are "not easy to explain because of the numerous components.

"Typically, municipal governments don't ask for an explanation, but we will sit down with them and explain their entire bill, if they ask," Sayer said.

But even the amount of electricity used by a city could be in doubt.

FPL officials admit the street light bill is based on an average kwh usage. It doesn't meter the electricity used by the street lamps as it does for home or office use.

For June 2003, FPL charged Anna Maria for 4,350 kwh used for street lamps. The figure includes 150 street lamps of 70 watts in Anna Maria multiplied by the average monthly electrical usage of 29 kwh per lamp, according to Sayer.

However, noted Sayer, remember that FPL installs the street lamps at the city's request and maintains the lamps and poles. That cost is included in the flat rate.

And exactly where are the 179 street lamps in Anna Maria located?

"Good question," said Public Works Director George McKay. "If they are all here, we can't find them."

Even Sayer admitted he doesn't have a map detailing exact locations, although he said FPL could download such information and provide a database to the cities, if asked.

McKay said he asked Sayer for a street-light map several months ago, but never received a copy.

Percycoe said she also recently asked for a map.

"I've never seen one either," said Holmes Beach Public Works Director Joe Duennes.

FPL is charging his city for 448 street lamps, a figure Duennes finds "hard to believe.

"I'd really like to know where they all are," he said, although because the lamps are owned by FPL they are not his responsibility.

Duennes pointed out that electricity for any street lamps on State Road 64 or 789 should be paid by the Florida Department of Transportation, not Holmes Beach.

"I'd be real interested to know if any of those 448 lamps are on the state's right of way," he said.

For September 2003, Holmes Beach paid $3,581.66 for electricity for the 448 street lamps FPL says are within the city limits.

Bradenton Beach, however, might be getting the short wick of the power candle.

FPL's bill to Bradenton Beach for street lamps states it's only for the lamps on Bridge Street, but the bill for September 2003 was a whopping $971.08.

Yet, FPL claims the rate for Bradenton Beach street lighting is the same as that for Holmes Beach and Anna Maria. However, FPL does not itemize its street light bill to Bradenton Beach, as it does with the other two Island cities.

Sayer said he couldn't really explain why the Bradenton Beach bill is different than that for Anna Maria and Holmes Beach, but suggested the bill might be for all electricity used by the city.

He did note that Bradenton Beach owns about one-third of the street lamps in the city, but according to FPL records, there are 165 company-owned street lamps in the city.

If Bradenton Beach, or any city, wants detailed information about its electric bill or street lighting program, FPL will be happy to oblige, Sayer said.

"Tell us what you want and we'll provide it," he said.

OK. How about that rocket scientist or recent high school graduate?

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