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CONVERSATIONS: With fuel costs on the rise, OUC eyes solar to help stabilize electric rates

Among other innovations, OUC is experimenting with floating solar arrays. Photo by Amy Green
Among other innovations, OUC is experimenting with floating solar arrays. Photo by Amy Green

OUC customers will be paying more for electricity beginning next month. 

The municipal utility approved a rate increase that for most customers will amount to about $5 to $15 more a month.  It’s the third increase this year, and the company is possibly eyeing another come January. 

WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green talked with OUC Chief Financial Officer Mindy Brenay about why this latest increase is needed. 

BRENAY: The last time we've had these really steep increases were around the time of the Great Recession. But they were more around the energy side and the demand side for the customers, as we had seen a significant amount of foreclosures in the central Florida area.

This is solely commodity driven. And again, while we're increasing prices today, when prices come down on these commodities we will take that swift action as well.

GREEN: The increases come as prices for solar remain unchanged. How is OUC leveraging solar to help manage these increases for customers?

BRENAY: Community solar has been a premium over traditional fuel pricing, and that has been the case since we have implemented solar. The price of solar has continued to come down, but it has traditionally been higher than our standard fuel price.

Now with this unusual spike we're seeing in fuel, we want to do everything we can to lower the fuel costs. So these solar costs, which are now actually lower than our traditional, are being blended in to give all customers the opportunity to share in those lower costs from solar.

GREEN: The Biden administration just pushed through a landmark climate package that economists expect will help Americans save money on electricity. How will this affect OUC customers?

BRENAY: The Inflation Reduction Act is like offering savings on a mortgage, as opposed to actually paying your rent this month. So these are grant programs that will help us build a home into the future and energy into the future, as opposed to paying for rent today.

GREEN: Advocacy groups like Florida Conservation Voters and the NAACP are opposing the increases. And one of the things they want is more energy efficiency programs. What is OUC doing to enhance energy efficiency?

BRENAY: We have a whole portfolio of programs. They range from the residential energy efficiency program to the multifamily home programs, as well as we are always available to do home energy audits. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has actually recognized OUC as a leader in energy efficiency.

GREEN: What have we not talked about?

BRENAY: We monitor fuel costs on a daily basis. We do implement mitigation strategies, where we are locking in prices to protect the customer price on fuel.

We do anticipate that by the close of '23 we will start to see fuel prices come down. But if they happen to come down sooner, we will take swift action and lower our fuel costs.

Again, this is a pass-through. There is no return earned for OUC on the fuel costs. So it benefits everyone for fuel prices to come down, and we will pass that on immediately to the customers.

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.
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