Georgia Power electric bills to increase starting in January

ATLANTA — Georgia Power customers will see their monthly bills rise, with some of the increase kicking in next month, state regulators ruled Tuesday.

The Georgia Public Service Commission did not immediately tabulate how much average residential bills will rise as rate and fee increases are phased in over three years. The plan was approved by four of the PSC’s five elected commissioners.

Georgia Power won approval to collect profit margins well above a national average for its industry. As a regulated monopoly, the company has to have its rates approved by the PSC.

The high profits should help keep the company’s credit score from dipping, which ultimately would have hurt customers who are responsible for Georgia Power’s financial health, PSC Vice Chairman Tim Echols said. “I wish we didn’t ever have to raise rates on anything.”

PSC Chairman Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, who had pushed for a cut in targeted profits for the company and opposed Tuesday’s changes, said of Georgia Power, “they ought to be happy.”

Georgia Power had pushed for increases in bills as it faces growing expenses, such as those for storm repairs and dealing with leftover ash ponds at its coal plants around the state. Its initial proposal could have cost the average residential customer an extra $200 a year had it been fully phased in.

It also proposed shifting the makeup of bills by nearly doubling a $10-a-month basic fixed fee. Instead, the PSC voted for the fee to rise to $12 in 2021 and $14 in 2022. Consumer groups and others had warned that the various increases proposed by Georgia Power would hit lower income customers particularly hard and that the hike in fixed fees would reduce how much customers can save by reducing their use of electricity.

Critics like Liz Coyle from Georgia Watch say the PSC should worry more about customer bills than company profits.

“They seem to very concerned how Wall Street is going to react. Our bigger concern is how the people of Georgia are going to react when they know they are going to see that extra 10 dollars a month on their power bill but they aren’t sure how they are going to pay it,” Coyle said.

Portions of Georgia Power’s request had been opposed by a wide variety of entities, from the PSC’s own staff to business organizations and the U.S. Department of Defense, which gets electricity from the company at military bases in the state. The PSC’s staff had pushed back on a number of fronts, from ratepayers having to cover bonuses for Georgia Power executives, to profits that staff said were higher than necessary for the company to keep a healthy credit rating.

This isn’t the only bill going up. The PSC today also heard testimony from Atlanta Gas. On Thursday, they will vote on a proposal to raise your gas by about 6 percent.

Information from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was used in this report