Georgia Power customers can expect to pay 17 percent more on electricity come January. The Public Service Commission approved one of the largest rate hikes in the utility’s history.
Four of the elected commission members voted yes to the rate increase Tuesday. They also put the final stamp of approval on a nuclear surcharge that will help cover the financing of Plant Vogtle's expansion.
Commission Chairman Lauren Bubba McDonald says raising the rates was a tough decision considering people struggling in the down economy, but some of the $2.1 billion the utility will collect over the next three years will cover environmental controls.
"We’ve gone through weeks and weeks of the process in getting where we are today," says McDonald. "You know $430 million of this is environmental that Georgia Power Company has no effect over and we have no decision over and it’s mandated by EPA and we have to deal with it."
Georgia Power says it will also use the money to upgrade infrastructure, put in new power lines and a new natural gas plant in metro-Atlanta.
But Commissioner Bobby Baker who was the only member to vote against the rate hike says the decision will have the customer paying too much and the company making hefty profits.
"The earnings band is far too generous," says Baker. "The earnings level is actually 12.25 percent for the company. They get to keep all their earnings up to that point and only after they exceed that 12.25 percent would there be any kind of sharing between rate payers and the company."
Baker says this is the biggest jump he’s seen in the utility’s electricity rates in two decades.
Barbara Antonopolis is a Georgia Power customer who showed up at Tuesday’s hearing in protest.
"It’s not because they need it to provide services for us. It’s because they need it to provide some service, but they need it also largely to provide them with greater profit. That is wrong," says Antonopolis.
Critics say the PSC is letting Georgia Power profit too much in this down economy compared to what other utilities are earning across the nation.