Georgians will be able to voice their concerns about Georgia Power’s plans to raise electricity rates by 12% in a series of hearings beginning later this month before a final vote in December.
The Georgia Public Service Commission has adopted new procedures which allow each person to speak for up to three minutes during the first hour of each hearing day, but after the allotted time, those who wish to speak must return another day and anyone not directly involved in the matter will be asked to leave the meeting room. Various energy policy, environmental and consumer watchdog groups have accused the commission and Georgia Power of trying to limit public participation on serious matters that affect how much people pay for utilities.
An environmental justice activist tied his wrist to a courtroom door earlier this year to protest the commission’s plan to block the public from attending a vote on the energy plan in term from Georgia Power, citing the pandemic.
Two dozen people asked to intervene after an initial programming order appeared to limit audience participation. As official intervenors, they could provide expert testimony and ask questions of witnesses, including Georgia Power executives and management, utility analysts and consultants. This is a higher level of involvement than submitting a public comment.
Hearings on the rate case will take place from September 27-29, then resume in November before the final hearing is scheduled for December 15. The rule states that no public comments will be collected during the administrative sessions.
The five-member council is expected to vote Dec. 20 on Georgia Power’s request to add $16.29 to the average residential customer bill, or about $200 per year, over the next three years, starting in 2023 with an increase of $14.32.
Commission Chair Tricia Pridemore said the general public always has an opportunity to weigh in during commission hearings and that public comments can also be given orally at the end of regular committee meetings. Written comments may also be submitted on the commission’s website at https://psc.ga.gov/public-comments/.
“The Georgia Public Service Commission is a quasi-judicial, quasi-legislative agency,” Pridemore said. “We make our hearings public. We also have a video for people to watch if the courtroom is full.
“They can talk to us about anything related to utilities,” Pridemore said. “They can tell us about the color of the sky. They can’t insult us and they can’t wear suits. These are the only rules. »
There will likely be at least seven hearing days throughout the tariff case for people who wish to speak, and committee meetings are also being streamed online, Pridemore said.
“We are limited in space. It’s first come, first served,” she said. “We have a sign-up sheet for public witnesses, so we do it in the order that comes first and we have an open facility for them.
On Thursday, the commissioners told 25 candidates seeking formal involvement in the tariff case that they should choose whether to side with another intervenor, Georgia Conservation Voters, or give their own testimony through public comment.
At Thursday’s hearing, some candidates said they were willing to work with the conservation group, while others said they wanted to be official parties to a proceeding that will affect people’s ability to do business and pay their bills.
The vote came after Georgia Power and PSC public interest advocacy staff claimed that adding 25 more intervenors would clog procedures for complex issues and argued that working under the umbrella of a single conservation organization would allow members of the public to pool their resources.
“It’s a much more complicated process and offers no opportunity to speak freely as a public witness,” said PSC attorney Preston Thomas.
Deborah Opie, lead organizer for Georgia Conservation Voters, said the organization has helped people complete their applications, but their individual concerns and challenges should not be lumped together.
She faulted Georgia Power and PSC staff for not wanting the average person to have the same access as responders, “yet they’re asking for a $2.8 billion increase to the the same people they want to silence.”
Georgia Power attorney Brandon Marzo said Thursday the company is open to hearing from its 2.7 million customers and has listened to their concerns over the past year.
With the new plan, Georgia Power argues that rate increases are needed to improve its electric grid and provide cleaner, more reliable forms of energy.
The proposed increase does not include the tab for the Vogtle plant’s $34 billion nuclear expansion project, which is expected to be online in 2022. Additionally, Georgia Power customers are paying for the closure of coal and coal power plants. the cleanup of the ashes, estimated at $9 billion.