Progress Energy owes customers for overpriced coal: lawyer

FLORIDA - The lawyer for Florida's utility customers said that Progress Energy owes customers a refund of $61 million for buying overpriced coal.

"It is unfair to saddle customers with extra costs that Progress Energy could have avoided by purchasing a less expensive fuel," said Public Counsel J.R. Kelly.

Progress Energy defended its fuel purchasing practices and said the higher-priced coal produced more energy and ultimately saved customers millions of dollars.

"Progress Energy continually works in the customers' best interest in its fuel buying practices," said Suzanne Grant, a utility spokeswoman.

The utility could have burned cheaper coal but failed to secure a permit to do that, said Joseph McGlothlin, associate public counsel. The counsel's office has asked the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates Florida's utilities, to order the utility to refund the money to its customers. The commission is slated to begin hearings in April and decide the case in June.

The company lost a related case before the commission in 2007. The commission in that case ordered Progress Energy Florida to pay a $13.8 million refund for buying the more expensive coal from 2003 to 2005. That money has already been refunded to the utility's 1.7 million customers. The case relates to coal purchased in 2006 and 2007.

It's unclear if or when Progress customers might see a refund, and how much. Progress Energy raised fuel charges twice last year as the cost of coal, oil and natural gas soared. State law bars utilities from profiting from fuel. It's a pass-through to consumers. The utility recently announced that it would lower bills by 11 percent, in part because fuel prices have come down.


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