Georgia Power can recover $7.7 million it spent on COVID-19 safety expenses, but drew criticism over the message that it sends when it sticks customers with the tab.
This week’s 3-2 vote by the Georgia Public Service Commission allows the company to eventually collect the money it spent on overtime, cleaning supplies, protective gear for employees and other pandemic-related expenses.
While the $7.7 million price pales in comparison to the billions of dollars in cost overruns at the overdue Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion, consumer advocates question why customers should reimburse Georgia’s largest electricity supplier when many people are struggling to pay their bills.
Atlanta-based consumer advocate Georgia Watch and the Southern Environmental Law Center were among the critics who argued against letting Georgia Power recoup the $7.7 million.
Many small business owners are spending extra money to protect their employees and customers from the spread of the coronavirus, said Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch.
“Given that every Georgia business and really every Georgia family is having to spend more on supplies to protect themselves and others from the spread of the virus, it seems absolutely reasonable that Georgia Power would do the same,” Coyle said.
The commission staff recommended denying Georgia Power from recovering the money since the utility likely saved enough during the early months of the pandemic to offset much of those expenses incurred from March through May.
“The consideration of how the pandemic is affecting the company needs to be weighed against how the pandemic is affecting its customers, residential customers, and competitive businesses who are experiencing a significant economic loss,” said Rob Trokey, the commission’s electric unit director.
A Georgia Power spokesman said the money the company spent allows it to maintain reliable electric service.
The commission could consider how to handle the costs during the next rate case in 2022.
“Georgia Power appreciates the commissioners’ consideration and thorough review of our request to defer additional operational costs incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” spokesman John Kraft said in email.
Coyle said she is disappointed in the outcome of the vote, but she is grateful that Commissioners Lauren “Bubba” McDonald and Jason Shaw agreed with the staff.
Both McDonald and Shaw are Republicans with opposition when they stand for re-election in November.
Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore, who is not on the November ballot, argued Georgia Power should be able to pass the costs along to ratepayers.
“I can’t see how we can tell them that they’ve got to keep people’s electric running without getting paid, while at the same time not allowing them to recover the costs,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.