Tuesday’s vote took less than five minutes and the result was largely predictable.
Weeks ago, Georgia Power and the PSC’s public interest support team agreed on a framework that would allow the company to pass nearly all of its fuel costs on to taxpayers, but spread out its bill pool over three years, instead of the usual two. Since Georgia Power is not allowed to earn a profit on fuel expenses, the PSC has typically allowed the company to charge these costs with modifications.
On Tuesday, the five commissioners — all Republicans — voted to approve that plan with just one change: Chairman Tricia Pridemore proposed increasing the fuel rebate for income-eligible citizens to $9.50 a month, after the company proposed raising it from $6 to $8. Pridemore’s proposal passed unanimously, which means eligible seniors can now access bill discounts totaling $33.50 per month.
In recent hearings, environmental groups, consumer advocates and industry interest groups have called on the commission to take action to protect ratepayers, either by extending the time period for collecting fuel expenses or by requiring the company to be responsible for a small share of fuel costs.
But the PSC and its employees ultimately rejected these requests and argued that the commission was legally obligated to allow the company to charge customers all reasonable fuel expenses.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Bubba McDonald said approval of the rate increase was “extremely painful for all of us.”
“But it’s true,” he later added. “We have to face the problem. We owe the bill and we have to pay it.”
Environmental groups have criticized the increase, which they say will increase financial pressure on Georgians who are already struggling to make ends meet. Last year, nearly 10% of Georgia Power’s customers were fired at some point for failing to pay their electric bill, according to recent testimony provided by Jennifer Whitfield, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“I believe the commission has the power and duty to ensure that people can pay their bills,” said Codi Norred, executive director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL), a nonprofit that works with faith-based organizations on environmental issues. “If they can’t pay their bills, the prices aren’t fair and reasonable.”
Credit: [email protected]
Credit: [email protected]
In a statement, Georgia Power spokesperson Jacob Hawkins said the company recognizes that energy costs are a concern for family budgets, and promised that the company will work to “keep prices as affordable as possible and take proactive measures to protect customers from rising costs.”
Hawkins added that Tuesday’s approval “helps spread these additional fuel costs over three years and adds relief to eligible seniors for income through the Increased Discount Program.”
In addition to the two price increases approved so far this year, several more significant increases are expected in the coming months and years.
PSC has signed off on two increases of 4.5% to the company’s base rates, which are scheduled to take effect in 2024 and 2025.
And further costs from building Georgia Power’s long-delayed and overbudget nuclear reactors at the Vogtel plant near Augusta could also soon hit customers’ bills. Once Unit 3 enters commercial service — which the company said will happen by the end of June — Georgia Power estimates that another monthly rate increase of about $3.78 will be included in monthly billing.
Further increments could follow, with the exact amount to be determined by the PSC after fuel is loaded into Unit 3 Twin, Unit 4. The company has forecast that the expected fuel load in Unit 4 will occur anytime between July and October.
Smash rate increases Georgia Power
June 1: The average Georgia Power customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each month will see his monthly bill jump by about $16.
May or June: Monthly bills will increase by $3.78 when Vogtle Unit 3 goes into commercial operation, Georgia Power estimates.
Late 2023 or 2024: Vogtle’s extra costs can drive up prices; Exact amounts TBD.
January 2024 and January 2025: a further price increase of 4.5% in both years; The exact monthly bill affects the TBD.
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