State regulators hear pleas for relief from soaring utility bills in Georgia Power – WABE – case

Savannah resident Evelyn Jackson told Georgia regulators Tuesday that a fixed-income retiree would have to make more sacrifices to meet the rising costs of keeping lights in her home.

Jackson was among a number of Georgia Power rate payers who have been urging the Georgia Public Service Commission to stem the tide of rate increases on utility bills as the commissioners vote on May 16 on a fuel tariff case that could cause the average household to die Spends $16 more on monthly benefits over a three-year period beginning June.

Jackson, 76, said Tuesday it was unfortunate that the proposed tariff increase came right at the start of summer, putting older people at greater risk of not being able to afford to keep their air conditioning running.

“Now the utility bills are going up,” Jackson said. “How are we supposed to cool down? You have to buy groceries, you have to go to the doctor every week after a certain age.”

The hike in fuel prices is another in a series of incremental hikes that the Southern Environmental Law Center estimates will mean the average household paying about $500 more annually for utility services by 2025.

Georgia residents spoke passionately about the hardships raised by higher utility bills during Tuesday’s fuel price hearing, as well as allegations that five Republican commissioners sided with the state’s largest utility, often to the detriment of residents.

Liz Coyle, executive director of consumer nonprofit Georgia Watch, suggested Georgia Power expand its offering of utility bill assistance so more families struggling to live paycheck to paycheck can get some relief on their utility bills.

Georgia Power officials said they are seriously considering the impact higher utility costs will have on Georgia families and business owners.

Under Georgia Power’s proposal, ratepayers who qualify for the senior low-income program will see their fuel costs rise $2 less than a typical household, raising the monthly utility rebate to $32 would.

Georgia Power Vice President and Comptroller Sarah Adams said market volatility and fuel price increases were the result of factors beyond her control, including political unrest and global supply chain constraints.

“We have proposed a 33% increase in fuel rebates for income-qualified seniors and have committed to submitting updates (fuel rate adjustments) based on more recent natural gas price forecasts to reflect the recent downward trend in the natural gas crisis,” Adams said.

“Due to the significant and undercollected amount, in our initial application we took action to mitigate the impact of fuel costs and customers by extending the recovery period for the undercollected amount from 24 to 36 months,” she said.

Experts testifying on behalf of environmental groups and the Georgia Association of Manufacturers in the fuel case recommend regulators extend the deadline for customers to pay fuel costs and for Georgia Power to absorb a share of excess fuel costs.

Under Georgian law, utility companies can adjust fuel prices to cover costs, as long as doing so is not deemed illegal or negligent. A PSC has more control over how long it takes to recoup fuel costs.

An energy industry adviser, Jeremy Kalin, said Tuesday that Georgia law allows the PSC to do more than just approve fuel increases that place an unfair burden on ratepayers.

“I believe the Commission has a legal obligation to examine more closely whether Georgia Power has exercised sufficient prudence in mitigating these known and predicted risks of increased gas, natural gas dependency and natural gas costs,” said Kalin, who testified for the Sierra Club of Georgia and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Commissioner Lauren Bubba McDonald blamed the administration of Democratic US President Joe Biden for making the country less energy independent.

Brent Alderfer, CEO of a renewable energy company and a witness for the Sierra Club of Georgia and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Georgia Power should rethink its energy portfolio to reduce its reliance on natural gas. He said he expects natural gas prices to be significantly higher than Georgia Power has forecast for the next several years.