Tea party organizes against Southern Co. power monopoly

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ATLANTA — The Southern Co. makes billion-dollar decisions that affect millions of people in Georgia, yet it has attracted little political scrutiny – until now.

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New reactors at Plant Vogtle are under scrutiny by the Atlanta Tea Party.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/FILE
New reactors at Plant Vogtle are under scrutiny by the Atlanta Tea Party.

Leaders of the Atlanta Tea Party are challenging Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power over the monopoly’s reluctance to increase its use of solar power, the ballooning costs of building a new nuclear power plant and even its legal right to monopoly status.

The group’s action in Georgia seems relatively rare among the loosely linked tea party organizations nationally.

Other tea party groups have condemned the adoption of “smart” utility meters – which transmit information about customer usage – due to concerns that they would intrude on customers’ privacy, or have broadly backed less reliance on foreign energy. But relatively few have endorsed so specific an energy platform in their own backyards, much less promised to campaign on it.

“It certainly isn’t anything personal, but one of our core values is promoting the free-market system,” said Julianne Thompson, a co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party.
The electricity market in Georgia is not a free market. State law gives electric utilities, including Georgia Power, exclusive rights to serve customers in designated areas of the state. Most customers cannot choose their provider.

Utility officials say they welcome the involvement of tea party groups.

“We listen carefully to the concerns and ideas of the Tea Party, as well as all other organizations that represent the diverse opinions of Georgians,” company spokesman Jacob Hawkins said in a statement.

The tea party locally has proved successful at getting its supporters to pressure Georgia’s leaders into action. Thompson’s group was part of a coalition that leaned on reluctant Republicans to pass limits on Statehouse lobbying, and they are working on a voter identification and education project ahead of the 2014 elections to boost turnout.

Earlier this month, Debbie Dooley, another co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, urged the state’s elected utility regulators on the Public Service Commission, all Republicans, to force Georgia Power to use more solar energy. The commission is currently debating whether to approve Georgia Power’s latest plan for meeting the state’s long-term energy needs.

Dooley actually wants to go much further. She says if her organization viewed it as politically possible, it would support repealing a law granting monopoly rights to utilities.

“They can protect their business and say, ‘We don’t want the competition.’ They have veto power,” Dooley said.

Dooley personally endorsed a Libertarian challenger against Commissioner Stan Wise, a Republican who she said had gotten too close to Georgia Power.

But Wise said he questions how many people Dooley actually represents, and he doubts the solar projects she champions are economical.

“I just almost have to think it’s a kneejerk reaction that says if it’s solar, it has to be good,” Wise said. “And they haven’t done their homework on this extraordinary level of subsidy that this program brings to the table.”

The tea party groups are also targeting Georgia Power over the rising cost to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. The utility’s share of the project was supposed to cost $6.1 billion, but Georgia Power is seeking permission to raise its budget to $6.85 billion – and cautioned that costs may still increase.

Dooley’s group is particularly peeved that Georgia lawmakers are allowing the utility to charge its customers for the project’s finance costs before it produces power. This year, tea party members supported legislation from Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, that would trim the utility’s profits if it goes over budget building the plant. Chapman’s bill did not pass, though it could be considered next year.

Georgia Power argues the plant makes economic sense in the long run. The utility says the plant will be immune to swings in natural gas prices and will not be affected by limits on carbon emissions if they are enacted.

Dooley said she supports nuclear power but wants more accountability. Under state law, Georgia Power’s customers must pay for the nuclear plant unless regulators find its costs were unreasonable.

“They are guaranteed to make a profit on the cost overruns,” Dooley said. “What incentive is there to come in on budget, on time?”

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wribbs 06/03/13 - 06:28 am
The Tea Party is all about

The Tea Party is all about free markets, but they want to use to power of the government to force a company to do something that's not economically feasible. The only way solar is viable right now is by being subsidized by the government.

seenitB4 06/03/13 - 07:20 am
Be careful here

The last time they changed a utility my gas bill doubled...doubled I said......yeh....I don't like it..GEEZ

resident 06/03/13 - 08:30 am
I agree on some portions of it

Georgia Power's Monopoly is a bit on the side of totalitarian. I feel they are cramming this down our throat using public service commissioners that have to live in the Atlanta area instead of in the areas they are supposed to represent! I know businesses that can put solar in but since Georgia power is trying to figure out ways to keep their strangle hold on everyone they make enough red tape for their so called buyback program and well below a reasonable per PKwH I think it is only 13 cents. They have all but killed a public venture capital company what wanted to build a solar plant (I know there are plenty of Naysayers against it saying it is not smart of environmentally friendly) but I am betting when there is a profit that has to be maintained they can figure it out. I am not against Nuclear but the facts are there is a disposal issue that has not been solved yet globally. Should we be contributing to this mess? I agree the gas conversion was not well though through because politicians got their kickbacks and we ended up paying way more for gas than necessary. It is settling down now though. Lets give this a fair chance POLITICIANS! You are supposed to represent us and not your personal wallets!

oldredneckman96 06/03/13 - 09:03 am
Tea Party

I just tore up my Tea Party card. Anyone who wants to disrupt the best power delivery system around, is trying to disrupt the country. If Obama lost $500 million of our money on solar, why would you want the goverment to waste more?

MarinerMan 06/03/13 - 09:22 am
Solyndra was a joke. It was

Solyndra was a joke. It was already in trouble, and Obama gave one of his Democrat donors some kickback money. Solar can work, but I don't think it can work here, weather-wise. Georgia Power does buy back energy from local industrials that have generation capability -- worked for one for 13 years.

kissofdeath 06/03/13 - 11:22 am
Every since, the news media

Every since, the news media reported a bogus claimed ( Election time is near) that the IRS target the Tea Party group the sleeping giant is trying to resurface. "Go away Tea Party giant"

rmwhitley 06/03/13 - 12:08 pm
The Tea Party

is a legitimate group of mostly very honest citizens who are sick and tired of the weasels ( democrats, liberals, i.r.s., naacp, aclu et.al. ) spending our money like they earned it. The southern co. will no doubt hire that "just an ol country boy lowyer" who happened to be the last blood-sucking democratic govna of the fine state of Georgia.

GnipGnop 06/03/13 - 12:37 pm
Not just the gas industry...

AT&T anyone? Just wait til the good ole government runs your health care...Tag Offices and any other government run offices? Redtape and wait galore...

nocnoc 06/03/13 - 12:53 pm
As a Tea Party Supporter I am

wonder why this fight?

Yes Southern Company is to big to manage and outright owns more of GA that GA Gov. does (including the politicians).

Yes I have a major problem with GA residents paying to build Ga. Based Nuclear Power Plants. and then the power that is generated in GA. is only used and sold in Alabama and Mississippi.

However, I would support a better non-political solution than the too easily politically controlled Public Services Commission. Recent Rate Increases are getting out of hand.

Remember when they ask for, say 8%, they really just wanted 4.5%. It is a game they must play to allow the political types to look like they are doing their jobs and fought them back down to lower amount all in the voters best interests.

Humble Angela
Humble Angela 06/03/13 - 01:11 pm
"Every since, the news media

"Every since, the news media reported a bogus claimed......"

If it was bogus, then why did the IRS admit to it and even apologize for it?

ddooley2010 06/25/13 - 02:16 pm
Georgia Power

Next time you talk to your legislator, ask them why rate-payers in Georgia aren't entitled to the same protection that rate-payers in Mississippi are. The liability of the rate-payer in Mississippi of cost over-runs of construction of a new... coal fire plant in Mississippi is capped to what Mississippi Power/Southern Power certified it would cost and they do not make profit on cost over-runs. Contrast that to Georgia Power and the "sweetheart" deal GA Power has. They use rate-payers as a piggy bank, no cap on liability to rate-payer on cost over-runs and GA Power makes a 11.5% profit on cost over-runs. GA Power refuses to give an estimate on the cost per Kwh leaving the new Vogtle Plant once the come online. (God only knows when that will be there have been so many delays) There was a bill introduced this past legislative session that would protect rate-payers by capping the profit off of cost over-runs. GA Power has so much influence in the GA Legislature, the bill did not even make it out of committee. Southern Company spends millions of dollars lobbying and that is money rate-payers provide.

GA Power is fighting comptition from private solar companies and have their paid minions sending outright false information comparing the solar plan we advocate to Obama's Solyndra. They insult the intelligence of conservatives and are using keywords they know will incite passion. They try to manipulate us like Pavlov's Dogs and it is insulting. The plan we and the majority of the conservative members of the PSC support has no direct subsidies and unlike Vogtle, the rate-payers nor tax-payers assume the risk. We are looking out for rate-payers while others are looking out for GA Power.

We need a free market in power done in a conservative way. If you are in GA Power's territory then you are held captive by them and are forced to use them for your power needs. This needs to change. It is unfortunate some that claim to support the free market are trying to protect a monopoly.

"The Vogtle nuclear project will take about 19 months longer to complete than originally expected and cost about $740 million more than originally thought, Georgia Power has said. Project delays also have triggered lawsuits between Vogtle’s main contractors and the group of utilities building the reactors.

Georgia Power’s liability in those suits totals $425 million, but the utility maintains it is not responsible for the delays or costs associated with them.

“We’ve been through some real struggles. … We expected challenges. And the way we manage through them, that’s our job,” said Buzz Miller, executive vice president of nuclear development for Georgia Power and its sister company, Southern Nuclear. “We’re managing it the best we can to keep overall prices down for customers.”

Georgia Power executives tout long-term savings for customers from the project. Low interest rates and production tax credits will benefit the utility’s 2.4 million customers, saving a total of $2 billion over the next several decades, the company says.

But critics worry that more cost increases are on the way.

Meanwhile, the cost of the Kemper County, Mississippi, project has increased 19 percent to $3.42 billion, Southern said in financial documents filed last month. The amount of money Mississippi Power can recoup from consumers is capped at $2.88 billion because of a settlement the company reached with state utility regulators. That meant Southern was responsible for the additional costs, reducing its first-quarter earnings by $333 million."

An article I wrote: GA Power is not a friend of the grassroots..Their lobbyists were pushing for citizen to have to register as lobbyists in order to talk to their legislators.

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