ATLANTA --- The Georgia Public Service Commission voted Thursday to allow Georgia Power Co. to spread the cost of its fuel over 42 months, boosting costs for the average household by $5.59.
The increase in the typical monthly bill represents a 5.43 percent bump in what customers are paying, according to the company's estimate.
Alan Jenkins, a lawyer for the Commercial Group of business, mostly grocery chains with large bills for refrigerators, argued that the payback time should be spread out over a longer period than the 36 months the commission staff recommended so that it would be lower each month.
"Many Georgia customers are without work because many Georgia businesses have had to lay off workers or even close their doors," he told the five-member commission.
Georgia Power's lawyer, Kevin Green, agreed with the timing.
"I ask the commission to do this at this time because it is the right thing for our customers in a difficult economic time," he said.
The law requires the commission to permit electric utilities to pass along -- without a profit markup -- the cost of the fuel used in generating power. Because fuel costs change faster than utility rates, the commission has to periodically sort out when the company has collected more than it's owed or less than it's already spent.
In this case, Georgia Power has built up a tab of $683 million from buying fuel for electricity its customers have already used.
Commissioner Stan Wise said the current low interest rates and fuel costs could make this a good time to allow a higher fuel surcharge on customer bills to try to pay down that $683 million faster. But he agreed when the commission voted 4-1 to the expanded 42-month payback.
Commissioner Bobby Baker cast the only no vote.