Connect with us


Would St. Petersburg launch a municipal power utility?

Mark Parker



An electric contractor's bucket truck provided an aerial view of Duke Florida's expansive Tropicana Field staging site ahead of Hurricane Idalia in August 2023. Photo by Mark Parker.

Duke Energy’s local roots trace back to the St. Petersburg Electric Light and Power Company, which began serving the new city’s residents in 1899. After 125 years, it could be time for a change.

City Councilmember Brandi Gabbard broached the idea of forming a municipal electric utility at a Health, Energy, Resilience and Sustainability Committee meeting Thursday. The city’s 30-year contract with Duke expires in 2026, and Gabbard called that a “rare opportunity” to explore other options.

The discussion began when Allison Mihalich, sustainability and resilience director, reminded council members that the city hopes to utilize 100% renewable energy by 2035. However, gathering specific data from Duke has proved challenging, and Gabbard said she wanted to discuss the matter with company officials.

“I’ve been having some conversations behind the scenes with some concerned residents and stakeholders that do not want us to just rubber-stamp a new agreement with them,” Gabbard added. “They want council involved in this conversation. They want us to start now, and they want us to look at alternatives – actually running our own municipal (utility).

“I’m not saying today that I’m in favor of that. What I’m saying is, I believe we need to have a conversation about it.”

Any change would end a relationship nearly as old as the city. St. Petersburg Electric Light and Power became the Florida Power Corporation in 1927.

In 1992, Florida Power reorganized into the Florida Progress Corporation. The company merged with Raleigh, North Carolina-based Carolina Power & Light to form Progress Energy in 2000.

Progress Energy merged with Duke Energy in 2012 and Duke Florida headquarters in St. Petersburg. The utility serves 35 counties and two million customers statewide, with roughly a quarter, or 500,000, residing in Pinellas County.

“If there are alternatives, if there are leverages we can have with Duke in a negotiation, I want city council to be part of that,” Gabbard said. “We need to be an active participant in this conversation.”

Mihalic explained that it is hard to “connect the dots” with Duke’s renewable energy data as it combines several sources and states. However, she said company officials were “very receptive” to recent requests.

Councilmember Gina Driscoll expressed hope that the longstanding relationship with Duke could streamline that process. She wants annual updates on the city’s progress toward its renewable power goals and noted that 2035 is fast approaching.

Councilmember Richie Floyd called it “unfathomable” that the committee has not discussed St. Petersburg’s energy consumption or goals in three years. He also noted that the city pays to participate in Duke’s renewable power programs yet lacks related information.

A 100-kW solar array sits atop the USFSP parking garage. The campus receives credit for over 6,750 kWs of renewable power through Duke Energy’s community solar program. Photo provided.

In an emailed statement, Ana Gibbs, corporate communications director for Duke, said the company has a proven history of helping customers achieve sustainability goals. She noted it operates over 25 solar power plants statewide and will build 14 more between 2025 and 2027.

Gibbs noted St. Petersburg officials previously stated that the Clean Energy Connection solar program would save the city $4.7 million over 30 years. Duke also gave the University of South Florida St. Petersburg a $1 million grant to build a 100-kilowatt solar array, provided a solar canopy above the St. Pete Pier parking area and converted over 30,000 streetlights to energy-saving LED technology.

“Duke Energy prides itself in supporting the vitality of the communities we serve and looks forward to delivering innovative solutions to help the City of St. Petersburg achieve its clean energy goals for many years to come,” she wrote.

Most of Florida’s 33 municipal electric utilities exist in smaller cities. However, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tallahassee residents have community-owned public power.

The Florida Municipal Electric Association notes five investor-owned utilities, including Duke and Tampa Electric Company, serve about 75% of the state’s population. Its website states, “A public power utility is operated in the public interest, for the benefit of … the local community – not for the benefit of stockholders who live miles away.”




Continue Reading


  1. Avatar

    Hugh Hazeltine

    February 18, 2024at7:38 pm

    Those interested in this subject should read the book, “The Grid” by Gretchen Bakke to understand how electricity is produced, distributed, and paid for in the USA.

  2. Avatar

    Steve Sullivan

    February 17, 2024at2:25 pm

    Bill, I am curious as to why you think this is a bad idea.

  3. Avatar


    February 17, 2024at11:29 am

    Perhaps the competition would spark a interest on the part of Duke Energy to become the supplier of solar energy panels to our residents which can be paid back via the savings on the grid. It appears right now that we are still depended upon oil and gas and coal to generate electricity. Duke Energy in North Carolina has left behind a huge slag pile of spent coal which is polluting the area. Every new building that has gone up in downtown Saint Pete could have been solar powered and the extra returned to the grid to cut costs. We also have a upcoming garbage challenge which could be mitigated as a fuel source if the current trash to energy site was expanded. We have real opportunities to move into the 21st century with cooperation and technology. Solar is our future and we need to embrace it.

  4. Avatar

    Bill Herrmann

    February 17, 2024at7:03 am

    This is a really bad idea. Hopefully, it is given a complete public vetting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us: spark@stpetecatalyst.com

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.