Wednesday a.m. food for thought

Covid-19’s impact on Gulf Power

In early May, Inweekly had the Political Matrix poll Escambia County voters about impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their jobs and financials.

Of 719 people surveyed, 26.7 percent said they had been laid off, furloughed or lost hours at work. Of this out of work, 46.4 percent admitted they were behind on their monthly bills.

The latest filing by Gulf Power Co. has backed up the survey results.

With customers losing jobs and employees facing health threats, Gulf Power saw a drop in payments for electric service in April as it also spent money to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a regulatory filing shows.

Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida reports the largest utility in Northwest Florida received about $6 million less in customer bill payments in April than it ordinarily would have collected during the month. About $2.1 million is considered “bad debt,” up from the historical average for April of about $300,000, the company said Friday in the filing at the Florida Public Service Commission.

“The company anticipates that COVID-related bad debt expense will continue to increase due to higher levels of write-offs for uncollectible accounts,” the utility said. “Gulf Power estimates that its bad debt expense attributable to COVID-19 … will continue to increase over the coming months.”

Gulf Power suspended electric-service disconnections in March as the pandemic caused businesses to shut down or scale back and unemployment to skyrocket. Friday’s filing raises the possibility that Gulf may try to recoup the money when it seeks revised base electric rates, a process that is expected to start in 2021. The filing Friday dealt with an accounting process for bad debt and COVID-19 expenses of the utility.

Gulf Power received approval last month from the Public Service Commission to make one-time cuts in May electric bills. Lower-than-expected natural gas costs allowed the utility to provide the cuts.

The filing Friday also said Gulf expects about $4 million in costs this year for safety-related measures stemming from the pandemic. Those costs include monitoring the health and temperatures of employees and contractors at power plants and other facilities, testing for COVID-19 and antibodies and buying personal-protective equipment such as masks and gloves.

“Gulf Power has undertaken and continues to undertake safety-related actions to ensure its employees, contractors, and customers are protected from COVID-19,” the filing said. “To this end, the company has obtained materials and equipment to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 and has implemented a variety of practices at its facilities based on recommendations from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Florida Department of Health.”

Child Hunger

On Tuesday, May 19, the county fed 220 children and the Escambia County School District passed out meals to  960 kids. Last Friday, the school district discontinued its meal service.

Yesterday, only 274 children were fed through meals given away at the county’s libraries, leaving 906 without food.

The New York Times reports child hunger is soaring, but two months after Congress approved billions to replace school meals, only 15 percent of eligible children had received benefits.

Inweekly has asked the Escambia County administration for its plan to feed the 900 children no longer fed through the school system.