About the PSC Accountability Project
We believe that our elected officials should be making decisions about energy without monetary influence from the fossil fuel industry. For years, Georgia Power has pumped cash into the campaigns of public service commissioners. As a result, their decisions have been driven not by what’s best for the people of Georgia, but instead by what’s best for Georgia Power’s profits.
The Georgia Public Service Commission continually votes to put Georgia Power’s interests over hardworking Georgia Power customers. The commission has missed several opportunities to protect ratepayers from being charged more due to the company’s risky investments, its mismanagement of coal ash, and more. The PSC has also allowed Georgia Power to slow-walk progress on clean energy and energy efficiency, despite the fact that Georgians overwhelmingly support investment in clean energy and that many are in need of relief from high bills.
The Georgia PSC Accountability Project is a project led by the Georgia Conservation Voters Education Fund and the Georgia Ethics Watchdog Education Fund. The Georgia Conservation Education Fund works to mobilize Georgians to advance climate and environmental justice through education, advocacy, and other forms of civic engagement. The Georgia Ethics Watchdogs Education Fund is Georgia’s leading organization with the mission of holding local and state government entities and officials accountable to high ethical standards for the citizens of our state. Working together, these entities hold Georgia’s Public Service Commissioners accountable for their votes and actions.
We hope this site will help Georgians learn more about some of the actions the PSC has taken and their impact.
PSC Accountability Project Issues
Failure to Support Georgians in the COVID-19 Crisis
Adding COVID-19 Costs to Your Energy Bills
On Tuesday, July 6, Georgia Public Service Commissioners voted to allow Georgia Power to charge customers for the millions of dollars they spent on personal protective gear, overtime and meals, and extra cleaning services for the company’s frontline essential workers.
If the current rising costs that we pay weren’t bad enough, the utility will be allowed to eventually recoup those costs – $7.7 million for the months of March, April, and May – from customers like us.
“I can’t see how we can tell them that they’ve got to keep people’s electric running without getting paid, while at the same time not allowing them to recover the costs,” said Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore, who introduced the motion to allow Georgia Power to eventually bill customers.
This simply isn’t true. Consumer advocates and the PSC’s own staff have argued that the company does not need the money.
Giving Georgia Power the “Ok” to resume shutting off power
We’re in the middle of a global pandemic that has made more than 10 million people sick and killed hundreds of thousands. The United States of America is undergoing the worst financial crisis in almost a hundred years and millions of people are out of work. In Georgia, there are over half a million people who are unemployed, with the unemployment rate currently hovering around 10%. The situation is even worse for minority groups like African American families. It’s possible, and even likely, that you or someone you know is out of a job.
Further, many communities are experiencing the hot Georgian summer. Energy consumption naturally goes up during hot summer days and, in some situations, a cool home is vital to ensuring the safety of individuals like the elderly. While some states are passing rules to prevent power cutoffs if the temperature outside is 99 degrees or higher, our commissioners have decided to put corporate profits over the needs of struggling families.
About the Georgia Power Rate Case hearings
Georgia Power has 2.6 million customers. Every three years, they have to get their rates approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC). As a regulated monopoly, Georgia Power cannot raise its rates without the approval of five elected Public Service Commissioners.
In December 2019, Georgia Public Service Commissioners voted to raise the cost of your monthly power bill, giving Georgia Power an additional $1.8 billion over the next three years.
Georgia Power had originally requested a $2.2 billion rate hike, and to raise customers’ monthly basic service charge from $10 a month to $18.95 a month. The company claimed it needed more money to deal with growing expenses, like the cost of repairs after storms like Hurricane Michael in 2018 and dealing with toxic coal ash ponds that are threatening communities with coal plants around the state.
Thanks to the many people, activists, and organizations that spoke out against the rate hike, Georgia Public Service Commissioners approved only a $1.8 billion increase. Less than they asked for, but not by that much.
|What Georgia Power asked for||What Public Service Commissioners approved|
This increase means that Georgia Power customers will be paying some of the highest monthly mandatory fees for investor-owned utilities around the country.
Putting profits over people
Your elected Public Service Commissioners also voted to allow the company to make up to 12% in annual profit while raising bills on customers. In 2018, Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Company, made more than $3.13 billion in profit in 2018 and paid their CEO over $13 million. Georgia Power already makes a healthy profit and does not need to take even more money from its customers.
Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols even stated that he felt that “the high profits should help keep the company’s credit score from dipping,” suggesting that Georgia Power’s credit is more important than their customers’ financial health.
Plant Vogtle and Nuclear Energy in Georgia
If you are reading this and you get an electric bill from Georgia Power, you are paying for a troubled nuclear reactor, to the tune of about $100 per year.
Why You Are Paying for a Nuclear Plant
In April 2009, the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act (SB 31) was signed into law. The Act allowed Georgia Power to charge customers in advance for the construction of two new nuclear reactors in Burke County, Georgia: Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4.
SB 31 was sponsored by then-State Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) and went into effect on January 1, 2011. The bill added approximately ten dollars per month to the average Georgia Power customer’s bill. Customers can still see the amount they are being charged every month on their power bills. The amount is shown as “Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery.” This controversial practice is also known as CWIP, “Construction Work in Progress.”
The original estimated cost to build the two reactors was $14 billion. Georgia Power’s share was around $6.1 billion, while the remaining cost was to be split amongst the other co-owners: Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power), and Dalton Utilities. After years of construction delays, Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC went bankrupt and the total cost of the project skyrocketed to more than $25 billion. Georgia Power is now on the hook for an estimated at $8.4 billion, and it’s passing the extra costs onto its customers.
By allowing all Georgia Power customers to pay for the Plant upfront, Georgia’s legislators have allowed Georgia Power to shift the cost of finishing the project onto customers. This means that the company and its shareholders to make a huge profit at the expense of everyday, hardworking Georgians.
Customers on the Hook to Pay More While Georgia Power Profits
Unfortunately, here in Georgia, our Public Service Commissioners voted, again and again, to allow Georgia Power to continue with the project on your dime. Georgia Public Service Commissioners are supposed to protect paying customers from corporate greed and mismanagement. Yet, they have voted to let Georgia Power customers pay more while the company continues to make record profits.
While legislators did pass a bill in March of 2018 to sunset the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act of 2009, the bill only stopped customers from paying for future nuclear plants after January 2018. This means Georgia Power customers are still on the hook to pay for Plant Vogtle. There is has been no cost cap placed on how much Georgia Power can charge its customers.
Vogtle 3 is expected to come online in November of 2021 and Vogtle 4 in 2022. The new units are will generate electricity to power approximately 500,000 homes and businesses with a substantial source of emission-free electricity on the grid.
Emissions Free Not Harm Free
However, Plant Vogtle is not by any means harm-free. The expansion of Vogtle puts the people living in the communities surrounding the plant at risk. Towns like Shell Bluff, GA are already heavily impacted by a nuclear weapons facility and the aging, older nuclear reactors. The weapons facility is one of the most contaminated places on the planet. The most common of these radioactive isotopes is tritium which is known to cause birth defects and cancer. Cancers in Burke County are 51% higher than the national average. An expanding power plant places the people in the communities surrounding Plant Vogtle at even greater risk of exposure to radioactive contamination.