Georgia Power rate hike plan called burden on low-income customers

By: - October 1, 2019 8:59 am

Wan Smith, Just Energy Organizer with the Partnership for Southern Equity shown at a rate hike protest last fall, is asking for the Public Service Commission to refrain from lifting a three-month moratorium that will allow Georgia Power to resume disconnecting electric service. . John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Decatur’s Catherine Carter is such a stickler for conserving electricity that the 76-year-old didn’t turn on her air conditioner throughout this year’s sweltering summer.

Carter is among the Georgia Power customers who complain it is unfair for state officials to grant the utility’s request to nearly double its base electricity rate, the minimum amount customers pay for power. The retired biology professor was one of about two dozen people who commented at a hearing held Monday before state regulators on Georgia Power’s proposed rate hike case.

This week’s hearings offer the Public Service Commission and the public a chance to question Georgia Power executives about the rate increase plans and to ask them to justify why customers should cover the costs instead of shareholders.

The utility says it needs the money to pay for $450 million worth of hurricane cleanup, $525 million to close 29 coal ash ponds, and $1.3 billion to invest in its electrical grid.

Georgia Power’s plan is to increase the base rate from $10 to $17.95, from next year to 2022.

“What would really be appropriate is not paying an extra $215 a year just to be attached to the grid,” Carter said. “Who will be hurt most? Those who use the least energy.”

Some residents told commissioners higher bills will pose a particular hardship on seniors and other people living on fixed incomes. 

Across the street from the PSC’s offices near the Capitol, about 60 protesters who came from as far as Savannah chanted and railed against Georgia Power’s proposed rate hike.

“We’re here because Georgia Power is trying to make money off the backs of working class Georgians,” Wan Smith said into her bullhorn. The organizer for the Partnership for Southern Equity added, “if you need to clean up the water that you polluted, then you pay for it.”

Gabrielle Rodriguez braved the unseasonably hot weather Monday to protest Georgia Power’s rate hike request. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Atlantan Gabrielle Rodriguez, an energy engineer, said she braved the steamy afternoon temperatures for the protest because she wants to draw attention to the proposed increase in the base rate customers pay, which can’t be avoided by turning up thermostats in hot weather.

“They’re asking a ton of people to pay for energy that they might not need,” Rodriguez said.

The hearings are set to resume Tuesday with more testimony and cross-examination of Georgia Power executives.

Georgia Power President Paul Bowers said the company already provides a discount for many low-income seniors and plans to eliminate a $1.50 fee for making payments at retailers.

“It’s a great concern,” he said. “I think you’ve heard from many of the public that there are hardships related to their day-to-day lives.”

The proposed increase does not include the looming tab for the company’s over-budget Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project. But rate hike opponents say that bill will come due soon and will be in addition to any increase the PSC signs off on this year. The utility plans to pass Plant Vogtle costs along in 2021 and 2022 after two new reactors are online, Georgia Power officials said.

The next set of Georgia Power rate case proceedings are scheduled for Nov. 4 to 7. Georgia Power can request appeal hearings in late November. The PSC is pushing to decide the case by mid-December.


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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.