Can you afford Georgia Power's proposed 12% rate hike?
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Can you afford Georgia Power’s proposed 12% rate hike?

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Georgia Power customers can ill afford a nearly 12% rate increase at a time rampant inflation is making it harder to buy food and fuel, more than a dozen witnesses told state energy regulators Tuesday.

“I’m tired of seeing companies making record profits … when good people working every day are not getting increases in their wages,” Linda Pritchett, a city council candidate in South Fulton, told members of the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC}. “People simply cannot afford this rate hike.”

Pritchett was among several current and former politicians to address the commission at the start of two days of hearings on Georgia Power’s request to raise the average residential customer’s bill by $16.29 a month starting Jan. 1.

Former state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said the 12% rate hike is only the first of several the company is expected to bring before the commission in the next two to three years. Together, those increases could drive up rates as much as 45%, he said.

“If you vote for this, you’re about to send working people in Georgia into a crisis,” Fort told commissioners. “Don’t raise these rates on Georgia working people.”

After the public witnesses gave their testimony, representatives of Georgia Power defended the utility’s rate increase request as necessary to make the capital investments required to strengthen the electric grid and maintain quality customer service.

“We operate a capital-intensive business,” said Aaron Abramovitz, Georgia Power’s chief financial officer.

Abramovitz pushed back against recommendations by the PSC’s Public Interest Advocacy Staff to reduce the size of the proposed rate hike. Among other things, the staff is asking the commission to lower the return on equity (ROE) Georgia Power is seeking from 11% to 9.5%.

“Any radical reduction of the company’s requested ROE … would be unprecedented and unwarranted, with such severe changes significantly impairing the company’s financial integrity and its ability to raise capital at a reasonable cost upon reasonable terms for the benefit of customers,” the CFO testified.

The PSC staff also has recommended the commission order Georgia Power to reduce the operation and maintenance costs it can recover from ratepayers and reduce its electrical transmission and distribution investments.

Michael Robinson, vice president of planning, operations, and policy at Georgia Power, said the company needs to make major investments in its transmission and distribution systems to replace aging infrastructure that is up to 70 years old.

“The company cannot delay or take shortcuts in implementing these grid investments,” Abramovitz added.

Dan Walsh, a lawyer representing the PSC staff, objected to Abramovitz’s use of the word “radical” in describing the staff’s proposal to reduce the ROE requested by the company. Walsh said the average ROE awarded to utilities across the industry since 2020 is less than 9.5%.

What’s Next?: The PSC, which held two rounds of hearings on the rate hike request earlier this fall, is scheduled to vote on the rates Dec. 20.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation

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