Georgia Power’s long campaign for the state to approve a 12% interest rate hike is nearing its final showdown

That The final weeks of Georgia Power’s $2.9 billion interest fall will determine whether state regulators approve plans for customers to pay hundreds of dollars more a year to keep the lights on.

On December 20, the Georgia Public Service Commission will vote on the 2022 month-long interest rate fall. This week marks the end of the pundits’ testimony as environmental and consumer groups hope to curb a dramatic rise in electricity bills being charged by the state’s largest utility. With the pending tariff case settled, customers are likely to see their wallets continue to hurt in 2023 as Georgia Power seeks compensation for higher fuel costs and for expenses related to the expansion of the snake-bit nuclear power plant at the Vogtle plant.

The deadline for the parties to explain their positions on Georgia Power’s collective bargaining case is December, before commissioners are scheduled to vote on the company’s proposal on December 20. The decisions will affect 2.7 million Georgia customers.

Tuesday and Wednesday are the final days set aside for expert testimony on Georgia Power’s proposal for a 12 percent hike in residential electricity rates.

Georgia Power’s proposal would add more than $195, or $16.29 per month, to a typical household’s bill. In 2023, the worst sticker shock would be $14.32, followed by smaller rallies in 2024 and 2025.

The Sierra Club of Georgia is among the environmental groups pushing for Georgia Power customers to testify during this week’s public comment period on the damage higher interest rates could do to their finances.

Brionté McCorkle, executive director of Georgia Conservation Voters, said members of the state PSC must consider the many Georgians struggling to make ends meet.

“This isn’t just a Metro Atlanta problem,” McCorkle said. “This is not just a problem for poor black people. Everyone is feeling the economic strain right now.”

Georgia Power CEO Chris Womack said the company is preparing for a rapidly changing energy future and is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“At Georgia Power, our customers are and always will be at the heart of everything we do,” Womack said earlier of the tariff case hearings.

According to Georgia Power, the planned billion-euro investment in the power grid will reduce power outages for customers and help build for a growing population. In the transition from fossil fuel-based electricity to renewable energy, the company is providing a large amount of funding for transmission and distribution cable projects, a demand from cost critics an independent monitor.

Clean coal ash tab

So far, Georgia Power has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars Cost of cleaning coal ash of its customers and executives have said it expects to ask the PSC to approve more cost shifting to tariffpayers over the next year.

Georgia Power is demanding reimbursement for its coal ash disposal and intends to recoup fuel costs associated with soaring natural gas prices energy market.

An Ohio utility company was ordered by the US Supreme Court last week to stop dumping coal ash in unlined storage ponds and expedite clean-up operations. Georgia Power has sealed toxic ash in unlined pits at some of its coal-fired power plant clean-up sites as it prepares to shut down the two polluting power generators that are still in operation.

Georgia Power customers have been paying coal-related cleaning fees since 2020, and analysts at the state’s largest power producer are predicting another $1.1 billion in costs for cleaning coal ash ponds and sending the waste to landfill over the next few years. The utility is asking commissioners to approve a cap-in-place method that leaves coal ash in groundwater instead of permanently sealing ash ponds, as has been done in North Carolina and other places.

Charline Whyte, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said the Ohio court’s decision marks a watershed moment for the environment as it advocates for a safe method to clean up the toxic waste.

“I just don’t see a scenario where the Public Service Commission isn’t required to look at the legality of closing without a liner,” she said. “This issue should be considered in this tariff case as Georgia Power charges customers to recoup costs.”

“Our position is that feepayers do not have to pay for coal ash disposal at all, but if they do it should only be for the safest option, which is full excavation and removal to lined landfills,” Whyte added.

If they raise rates by 12% again this year and get all those extra hikes (in 2023), then it’ll be another interest rate fall in another three years, and they’ll come to us with another dramatic sob story about why they’re getting even more to need

– Brionte McCorkle Executive Director of Georgia Conservation Voters

The installment case discussions of the last few months have also focused heavily on that Prospects for more solar powered homes and companies.

The company claims that non-solar customers subsidize those who use green technologies. Georgia Power declines to continue its monthly solar pilot program, which hit its cap of 5,000 customers in 2021. Additionally, the utility plans to charge customers $200 for rooftop solar connections to its grid.

But the solar energy and environmental organizations covering the fall in interest rates claim that Georgia Power misrepresents why its prices are rising. They argue that the penetration of solar use in the Georgian market is low and the costs shifted to non-solar customers are negligible.

Commissioner Tim Echols has questioned the company’s plans, arguing that it could help define Georgia’s energy modernization.

“It shows the low penetration of rooftop solar in Georgia compared to other states, including neighboring states like Florida and South Carolina and even Tennessee,” said Bryan Jacob, solar program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The dispute poses the question of how much profit Georgia Power shareholders should make versus allowing consumers to pay less for the utility’s services. Georgia Power is asking commissioners to approve a return on equity of 11%, an increase of half a percent over the current yield, resulting in about $94 million of incremental benefits per year for shareholders.

In January, finance and insurance company Fitch Ratings reported that allowable utility yields have remained relatively stable at a median of 9.5% over the past two years.

“If they raise rates by 12% again this year and get all those extra hikes (in 2023) then it’s going to be another rate drop in three years and they’re going to come to us with another dramatic sob story as to why they’re getting even more need money,” McCorkle said.

“That’s not a lot when you put it in the context of things like Plant Vogtle, this billion-dollar boondoggle that’s sucking all the money out of the space,” she said.

Former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chair Ronald Lehr, who is an expert witness for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Georgia Power should return to regulators each year for a review to account for tax credits, rebates and other savings that are available under the Federal Anti-Inflation Act. The law wasn’t in effect when the company filed its interest case earlier this year.

“It would be unwise to approve next year’s installment plan the way Georgia Power proposed without considering some of that money,” Jacob said.