Lakeland Electric/City Charter Saga Over … For Now

Like many Lakeland residents, I was relieved Wednesday to see that the businessmen who had been reportedly pushing behind the scenes to change the city charter in regards to selling Lakeland Electric were ending their efforts.

Steve Scruggs, executive director of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, spoke during a city meeting Tuesday night and informed commissioners and those present that he and Brian Philpot and Barney Barnett would no longer seek to change the city charter.

According to The Ledger, Scruggs told commissioners, “In meeting with you over the past six months it was never our intent to hurt you or the city of Lakeland. I understand that some of you have felt at best, uncomfortable, and worst, threatened during the process.”

To read the full Ledger article, click here.

It was a somewhat surprising end to a controversy that seemed to come out of nowhere and produced very little, if any, results. Commissioners didn’t act on the idea of putting a change in the charter language on the ballot so that residents could vote to change it. As of now, the charter requires 66 percent of Lakeland’s registered voters to approve a sale, which is a pretty daunting task.

There has been speculation that Tampa Electric was eyeing a chance to buy Lakeland Electric, and I’m sure there are other utilities that would like a shot to grab more control of the power grid. But I’m still not sure why the businessmen would be pursuing the change.

According to the site, which tracks rates of utilities around the state and produces a summary each month, Lakeland Electric is by far one of the cheapest utilities in the state. It’s average base cost per 1,000/kwh is $59.42. The only municipal utilities with a cheaper base in the state are Mount Dora ($47.35), Vero Beach ($54.43) and Bartow ($54.70).

Compared with places like Ocala ($93.64) and Kissimmee ($133.27), Lakeland is getting a bargain. When factoring in the fuel adjustment, Lakeland’s total cost for 1,000/kwh is the lowest of any municipality at $101.72. Private utilities are also listed, and the only one cheaper than Lakeland is Florida Power & Light, but barely at $97.89. Tampa Electric is $110.84.

For the complete list, click here.

Add to those numbers the fact that Lakeland Electric provides a reported $24 million each year as a dividend to the city, and it makes even less sense to consider selling the utility. If things change to the point where the utility is bleeding money and no longer offering a dividend, then it shouldn’t be that hard for the city to lead a campaign to sell it and get 66 percent of the vote.

So there’s really no reason nor desire to change the charter, and it’s nice to see that the businessmen came to their senses and realized this was neither a battle worth fighting nor one they could win. Hopefully Lakeland Electric serves the city for decades to come and this is the last we have to hear about this for a while.


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