A nearly 12% rate increase Georgia Power is seeking is just one of four the utility will be requesting during the next three years, a staff lawyer for the state Public Service Commission (PSC) said Tuesday.
If the PSC approves all four, the average residential customer bill could soar by $55 to $60 a month, not just the $16.29 monthly increase in base rates the company is asking for, Preston Thomas, representing the commission’s Public Interest Advocacy Staff, said on the opening day of hearings on the rate hike request.
“Staff have concern with all of these different requests for rate increases in such a short period of time and the impact it could have on consumers,” Thomas told commissioners.
The rate hike, which Georgia Power proposed in June, would take effect on Jan. 1. The increase is front-loaded, meaning $14.32 of the additional $16.29 would kick in immediately. The remaining $1.97 would become effective in 2024 and 2025.
The increase is needed to strengthen the utility’s electric grid, add more renewable energy to its power-generation portfolio and improve customer service, Chris Womack, Georgia’s Power’s chairman, president, and CEO testified Tuesday.
“We are seeking to establish rates for the next three years that will allow us to continue to provide clean, safe, and reliable energy this state depends on and to deliver the first-class service our customers expect and deserve,” Womack said.
The PSC is scheduled to vote on the increase in base rates in December. But commissioners won’t get much of a respite before Georgia Power returns to seek additional increases.
Womack said Tuesday the company expects to file a request in February for unrecovered fuel costs to account for the volatility of the energy market resulting from factors including rising natural gas prices and the impacts of the war in Ukraine.
Thomas said Georgia Power also will seek increases to cover the costs of bringing the two nuclear reactors the utility is building at Plant Vogtle into service.
Together, the four increases would drive up the utility’s costs by about $2.9 billion, not the approximately $1 billion Georgia Power is seeking in the current rate hike request, he said.
“How can we look at the rate impact without looking at the total for the three-year period that the company is coming before the commission and asking for?” Thomas asked.
Womack said there’s no way at this point to ascertain what Georgia Power would need to request in February in fuel recovery costs.
Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald said the utility has nothing to gain from those costs.
“Fuel costs are a pass-through,” he said. “There’s no profit to be made by the power company on fuel costs.”
Womack also noted that the two new reactors at Plant Vogtle will bring Georgia Power customers decades of carbon-free electrical generation.
“These are investments we need to make,” he said.
Womack said the utility decided to front-load the rate increase because doing so will save customers about $40 million over the three-year period.
Georgia Power customers complained about impact the rate hike would have on low-income customers during a public-comment period at the start of Tuesday’s hearing.
“I can afford the rate increase,” said Michael Black of Decatur. “I’m here for the least of these.”
The hearings will continue on Wednesday and possibly Thursday.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.