TECO cutting costs amid flat customer growth
By RUSSELL RAY | The Tampa Tribune
Facing flat customer growth through the rest of this year, Tampa Electric is tightening its belt to weather tough economic times, executives said Wednesday at the annual shareholders meeting of TECO Energy Corp., Tampa Electric’s parent company.
Plans to build a 500-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant have been pushed back by three years, John Ramil, TECO’s president and chief operating officer, said after the meeting. In addition, the company may consolidate some operations to save money, he said.
Ramil did not rule out job cuts.
"We’re looking at everything to gain efficiencies," Ramil said. "We have not been filling jobs for a long time now. Hopefully, we’ve seen the bottom of the economy."
TECO Energy, which operates four businesses, employs 4,473 people companywide.
But Tampa Electric, the biggest of TECO’s four businesses, is beginning to see signs of an economic recovery.
Homes that have long been vacant are beginning to fill up, Ramil said.
"We’re seeing little data points that say maybe things are starting to recover," he said. "But they’re not trends yet."
Last year, TECO earned $162.4 million, or 77 cents a share, down from $413 million, or $1.97 a share, in 2007.
The company is expecting better results in 2009, driven largely by a $104 million-a-year increase in base service rates at Tampa Electric. State regulators approved the increase in March. The higher rates will take effect next month.
TECO Energy’s board members also approved a dividend of 20 cents per share, which will be paid May 28 to stockholders of record as of May 15.
Shareholders also approved a resolution calling for an annual election of all board members. Right now, board members are elected for three-year terms. The measure is designed to improve accountability to shareholders. The measure, however, can’t be enacted without the board’s approval.