Restaurant owner fights Duke over deposit

Palm Harbor, Florida -- A restaurant owner got upset when Duke Energy required a large deposit from him after the company suggested he switch from natural gas to electric.

Franchisee Edward Titen, who was at the Sonny's Real Pit BBQ restaurant at 30503 U.S. Highway 19 in Palm Harbor, was a little hot under the collar. He says, "I really felt threatened."

Titen says he received a letter from Duke Energy that he describes as a shakedown. The letter asked him to pay an additional $17,260 for a deposit on top of the previous deposit of $7,345 since his estimated average monthly usage has gone up over the years.

The letter says, "The amount of deposit we are permitted to collect is regulated by the Florida Public Service Commission" which is a deposit equal to twice the amount of an average monthly bill.

"I'm thinking if I don't pay this bill they're going to turn off my electric," he says.

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Titen isn't a new customer, though, and has two restaurants besides this one. The others are in New Port Richey and Largo. We've been at this location for 16 years - other locations between 10 and 12 to 13 years. We pay our bills on time," Titen says.

Titen adds that when they remodeled in 2007, the electric company known then as Progress Energy asked them to get rid of gas at the Palm Harbor restaurant and use more electric because they could sell it to him cheaper. "I said fine. I gave them an additional deposit at that time - and did everything I thought a good customer would do," he says.

But when he received the letter from Duke Energy he was so upset about it that he contacted Sen. Jack Latvala and 10 News.

Duke Energy called him and apologized Friday evening, and said because of his excellent payment history he is not required to pay the deposit. But, Titen worries other businesses owners may not get off as easy.

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Duke Energy spokeswoman Nicole LeBeau says, "Although I can't share information specific to this customer's account, what I can tell you is that accounts are reviewed quarterly and deposits are generally increased due to higher usage and/or payment history. Customers who have a good payment history and that have recently received a deposit notice can call our Customer Service Department at 1-800-700-8744 from 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday through Friday to discuss their account."

When 10 News asked whether there are ever any cases where Duke Energy will waive the deposit or lower it if the customer has a good payment history LeBeau added, "Each customer will need to contact customer service to discuss their specific account."


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