South Florida’s extreme heat has air conditioners working overtime for longer this summer, driving up electricity bills and putting an additional strain on the grid, though utility companies say they’re able to handle it.
The intense heat began far earlier this summer than past years, and hasn’t let up as the region approaches mid-August. South Floridians are probably in for a record-breaking summer in terms of energy use as well.
Florida Power and Light, which primarily services South Florida as well as parts of the state’s northeast and southwest, has already reached peak demand multiple times this summer, in June, July, and August, according to Bianca Soriano, a spokesperson for the utility company, “because it was so hot, because people were turning down ACs, and because they were working so much harder.”
Peak demand refers to the highest amount of energy usage in a given time period.
It’s rare for FPL to see that kind of demand so early in the summer, Soriano said.
“We’re used to having hottest months of year, higher bills in August,” she said. “It’s just been a longer heat wave than we’ve seen in the past.”
Forecasters have issued heat advisories almost every day for the last month and a half. This past week, the entire South Florida region was placed under an excessive heat warning for the first time ever, which means “feels-like” temperatures must surpass 113 degrees for two hours in Broward and Palm Beach and 110 degrees in Miami-Dade.
The heat wave has been felt across the entire state and country.
Nationally, the cost of home energy is expected to increase by almost 12% this summer, to an average bill of $578 compared to $517 last summer, according to a July press release from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.
In the South Atlantic states, which includes Florida, the association is predicting an increase from $563 to $628.
In Tampa, energy customers set records two days in a row for summer energy use, on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Power usage among customers of Duke Energy, which covers 1.9 million customers across Florida, approached all-time high levels this week at about 9,400 megawatts each day.
It’s unclear whether the past few days of extreme heat have led to any broken records when it comes to energy use in South Florida; Soriano said FPL didn’t have exact numbers.
Still, asked if this summer could surpass previous years, she said, “Assuming things continue to be hot and people continue the exact same usage week over week, certainly.”
Residents shouldn’t be surprised if they see higher bills than normal. To save money, FPL recommends that customers keep their air conditioners set between 74 and 78 degrees when home, and between 80 to 82 degrees when not home, and try to turn on fans rather than turn the AC temperature down.
FPL won’t discontinue anyone who’s past due on their energy bills if the temperatures reach 95 degrees or greater, Soriano said, adding that people struggling to pay their bills should call 211 for financial assistance.
“Disconnection is a last resort,” she said. “We don’t take it lightly.”
The demand hasn’t put a strain on the grid, Soriano said, because the utility prepares for those surges ahead of time based on the weather forecast to ensure it has the “sufficient power generating capacity.”
“You count on your air conditioning, and no one really thinks about electricity,” she said. “You kind of just flip a switch and expect it’s going to be there. And we want to provide that.”