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.”
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.