Dear <<First Name>>,

This week the Ga Public Service Commission held 3 days of hearings for a $3 billion increase in revenues Ga Power would like to add to your electric bills. If they get all they are asking for, and if this hits our bills in 2023 along with Plant Vogtle’s $7.1 billion bill increases expected in 2023, along with $2 billion in natural gas fuel surcharges that Ga Power is legally able to collect and will ask to begin collections in 2023, then each Ga Power customer will see their bills jump $55-$60 per month.

Is that figure crazy high? Yes, it is. It’s stunning. It will harm tens of thousands of Georgians. It will increase disconnections. All of it is wrong on so many levels, starting with the fact Ga Power rate increases should be held back so they don’t fall in the same the year when Plant Vogtle’s bill increases happen. Plant Vogtle is now the most expensive power plant ever built on earth at $34 billion and is 7 years behind schedule. When does Ga Power pay any penalty for their failures to deliver this project? So far Plant Vogtle delays and cost overruns have been very profitable for them.

“Georgians pay the highest electric bills in the nation”

Can we stop this headline from happening? Yes, absolutely we can. There are 39 remaining days until the Tuesday, December 20th, 2022 vote by commissioners to raise bills. And their votes, which traditionally support everything Ga Power wants, depend on cover of darkness. That’s why I am launching a Stop the Ga Power Greed campaign for the days leading up to that vote where I will try to push these issues under a spotlight…

…to a wider public audience to explain what’s going on and what can be done. But for now, here is a picture of the road Georgia Power is taking to the highest electric bills in the nation.

  1. Ga Power’s $3 billion rate request began with a June 24, 2022 filing. Initial hearings were held in September where Ga Power made their case about why this money is needed.

  1. This week’s hearings allowed rebuttal by consumer and environmental and public interest advocates about why this increase is not needed and is inappropriate.

  1. Later this month on Nov. 29 and 30 Ga Power will present their rebuttal testimony to what the advocates said.

Backroom Deals

In between this week’s advocate testimony and the Ga Power rebuttal hearings at the end of November, PSC staff will negotiate with Ga Power which requests they accept and which they reject. Georgia Power always asks for more than they need, so the resulting compromise is not balanced. The compromise is captured in a document called a stipulated settlement agreement (or stip for short).

This process almost always results in a very bad set of deals for consumers. Advocates who were a party to the case, who presented analysis and evidence are not in the room “where it happens”.

This negotiation process is the very definition of back room dealmaking, the opposite of recent claims by Commissioner Echols that

This is not some smoke filled back room where we're making deals. All of our conversations are out there in public for people to hear.”
Source: AJC 11/5/22 New Rules Could Bar Public from Georgia Public Service Commission’s Rate Hike Talks

Although commissioners can make changes to the stip, history shows they rarely do. There is little advocates and intervenors can do to change the agreement that PSC staff reaches with Ga Power. It’s game over at that point.

On December 20th at 10 am, Ga PSC commissioners will vote on the entire stip as a block, not the individual components. This way no commissioner feels responsible as the vote is shared, and approval of the stip is done with one vote.

Advocates rarely get what they want except for some incremental items along the edge. The issues that were so hard fought over with hundreds of hours of hearings and thousands of dollars of expert analysis in attempts to protect customers are gone.

Unlike most states, the State of Georgia has no law or requirement that the Ga PSC adopt “just and reasonable rates”. Commissioners claim that’s what they are doing because that is what most other commissions do. Instead, Georgia’s regulatory body protects Ga Power from accountability by raising rates on captive customers to increase shareholder wealth while paying for Plant Vogtle.

An examination of the residential demand charge rate plan Ga Power calls “Smart Usage” is a clear example. As the AJC story shows below, customers in small dwellings often face bills that are double in size. No customer impact study was done prior to allowing Ga Power to make this dramatic change harming customers. This is one example of dozens.

The State of Georgia is one of only 7 states in the US with no Consumer Utility Council, which is a state agency or department representing ratepayer interests in cases before state utility commissions. Georgians have been unprotected since 2008 when Gov. Perdue defunded Georgia’s Consumer Utility Council after decades of good work protecting ratepayers at the commission.

Several media outlets have done a good job with coverage. Let’s start with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Please subscribe to the AJC if you are not a subscriber. Having reporters cover these issues is super important.

Thanks for being a supporter and for reading. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.

- Patty Durand