by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
May 16, 2023
Georgia Power customers will see their electric bills rise dramatically starting in June as the company begins to recoup $2.1 billion in fuel costs.
The average Georgia Power household will begin paying 12% more for monthly utility bills as summer temperatures rise in June after state regulators on Tuesday approved the company’s $6.6 billion fuel expense plan.
The Republican-controlled five-member Public Service Commission unanimously approved an agreement that lets the state’s largest utility company recover $2.1 billion in under-budgeted costs for coal and natural gas. The terms of the agreement will result in the typical residential customer paying about $16 more for monthly utilities over a three-year period.
The Southern Environmental Law Center estimates that in 2025 households will be paying about $500 more annually for utilities when Georgia Power customers absorb six rate hikes for fuel costs, annual increases in electric rates and the tab that comes due for the completion of the nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle.
During the fuel case hearings, Georgia residents expressed their frustration about the burden imposed by higher utility bills, and complained that commission members often support the state’s largest utility over residents’ financial wellbeing.
The new fuel rate also includes an additional $4.4 billion in projected fuel costs for the next three years.
Codi Norred, executive director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, said the organization is disappointed that PSC officials didn’t adopt the organization’s request that Georgia Power be more transparent about how many families are having trouble keeping their power on because of financial difficulties.
Georgia Power cut off about 10% of Georgia Power’s residential customers last year due to nonpayment.
“This is a justice issue. Georgia Power blew through its fuel budget last year when the price of fossil fuels skyrocketed, but at the same time, it pocketed billions in record profits,” Norred said. “Now, customers are going to have to readjust their family budgets to find space for increasing bills with no relief in sight.”
The company requested reimbursement for excess fuel costs incurred last year due to inflation driving up natural gas prices and other energy sources to provide electricity to its 2.7 million customers.
Under Georgia law, utilities can require ratepayers to cover the cost of fuel provided they can prove that their previous and future costs aren’t due to negligence or illegal. Georgia Power officials say the company does not earn a profit on its fuel costs.
Georgia Power has been criticized for not sharing a financial responsibility for its fuel charges and for not extending the latest fuel payment period by more than four years to ease the burden on ratepayers.
Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald said that while the regulated monopoly is transitioning from coal-fired power plants, a new emphasis is to commit to a more diverse combination of energy sources, including natural gas and solar power. McDonald blamed the Biden administration for the hike in the average price of natural gas between 2016 and 2020, an increase from $2.65 to $5 this year.
“It’s the Green New Deal energy policy at the federal administration that is why we’re faced with these issues with the cost of gasoline, the cost of transportation of coal and every other product we have,” McDonald said.
The PSC agreed on Tuesday to give low income seniors an additional $1.50 discount on their utilities on Tuesday as a slight reprieve for those people living on fixed budgets. That’s on top of the $2 discount previously included in the just-approved package.
Seniors enrolled in the company’s low income plan will now receive a $33.50 discount on their monthly bills, up from the original $30.
“I agree with intervening parties in the fuel cost recovery docket that the income qualified senior citizen fuel discount should be increased so there is a proportional impact to ratepayers,” PSC Chairwoman Tricia Pridmore said.
Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.