State regulators approved a settlement Thursday that will allow Gulf Power, the largest utility in Northwest Florida, to recoup up to $13.2 million in costs tied to the coronavirus pandemic. The settlement approved by the Public Service Commission covers safety-related measures undertaken through last month and “bad debt” expenses incurred between March 17, 2020 and mid-November, when the company did not disconnect customers who were unable to pay bills.
“These (safety) actions included monitoring the health and body temperatures of employees and contractors, testing employees for COVID-19 and antibodies, making modifications to company facilities, obtaining personal protective equipment such as masks (and) gloves, placing signage on buildings and trucks to ensure social distancing, and other safety-related COVID protocols,” Joel Baker, an attorney representing Gulf Power, said.
Among the terms of the settlement, Gulf will be allowed to spread the recovery costs over three years, starting with Jan. 1, 2022, as part of its fuel costs set for the 2022 calendar year. Gulf initially sought more than $20 million, but the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers, protested. Stephanie Morse, an attorney with the Office of Public Counsel, said terms of the settlement include customers not being responsible for pandemic-related expenses after June 30.
Gulf merged on Jan. 1 with Florida Power & Light but has retained its name. A similar settlement, worth $2.085 million, was approved by the commission for the Florida Division of Chesapeake Utilities Corp., which has three Florida subsidiaries.