Originally created 06/14/06

Compromise stalls power rate increase



ATLANTA - State regulators put off a vote Tuesday to increase electric bills in Georgia after receiving a last-minute compromise between agency staffers and industrial power customers.

The Georgia Public Service Commission was set to decide what to do about Georgia Power's request for $561 million more a year in customers' bills because of increased fuel expenses to generate electricity. The company says it's needed because of spikes in natural gas and coal prices.

The proposal presented to commissioners just before their meeting Tuesday morning would require less of a increase for Georgia Power customers than the company originally requested but also would not drop the bills of current Savannah Electric customers, as the utility had intended.

Commission staff members, the Georgia Industrial Group, the Georgia Textile Manufacturers Association and the state Consumers' Utility Counsel, which represents residential and small-business electric customers, all signed off on the plan.

Georgia Power officials received the proposal Tuesday, and company spokesman John Sell said later in the afternoon they were still reviewing it.

Ultimately, it is up to public service commissioners to decide whether to go with the alternative plan, endorse Georgia Power's original request or adopt another recommendation, though no commissioners offered any more last-minute ideas.

They are scheduled to decide Thursday, the legal deadline they have to vote on the issue.

Under Georgia Power's initial request, its residential customers would see average monthly bills rise by $7.22. The bills for Savannah Electric customers would decrease $8.14 a month, according to the utility.

That substantial drop for Savannah Electric would come because the company is merging into Georgia Power next month, partly because Savannah customers have been hit disproportionately in the past year as fuel markets skyrocketed. Savannah Electric customers now pay roughly 2 cents more a kilowatt hour for fuel than Georgia Power customers.

The newest proposal came in response to complaints that Georgia Power was trying to absorb Savannah Electric's costs too quickly at the expense of existing Georgia Power users.

"It goes a lot longer toward mitigating the impact on Georgia Power customers," said Randy Quintrell, an attorney for the Georgia Industrial Group.

The plan has Georgia Power residential customers paying an average of $5.03 more a month starting in July. Current Savannah Electric customers would see no change and instead would shoulder more of the merger adjustments.

"By doing that, it also keeps any Georgia Power customers from paying for the merger," said Tom Bond, the director of the commission's utilities division.

ELECTRIC PLANS


Public service commissioners have different recommendations to choose from Thursday when they decide how to pass fuel expenses and merger charges onto Georgia Power and former Savannah Electric customers:

GEORGIA POWER REQUEST


Impact on Georgia Power customers: $7.22 more per month, or 8.1 percent increase on bill*


Impact on Savannah Electric customers: $8.14 less per month, or 6.4 percent decrease on bill


STIPULATION PROPOSED TUESDAY


Impact on Georgia Power customers: $5.03 more per month, or 5.2 percent increase on bill


Impact on Savannah Electric customers: Bills are unchanged