AARP to speak at hearing on Atlanta Gas Light surcharge request

AARP is intervening in Atlanta Gas Light Co.'s request for a new ratepayer surcharge to fund a $400 million facilities improvement project.

Residential customers initially would pay an additional 95 cents a month surcharge and small businesses an extra $2.85 if the Georgia Public Service Commission approves the project at an Oct. 6 meeting.

As a result of its intervention, representatives of AARP, the senior citizen advocacy group with 1.1 million members in Georgia, will be able to speak at hearings on the case, to be held Sept. 16 and 17.

"We are concerned with the impact of this on the rate payer," said Will Phillips, associate state director for AARP. "It's a big case and it's going to have implications for people's bills."

"They're a huge voting bloc of powerful citizens," GPS commissioner Charles Eaton said. "As elected officials, you always want to pay attention to what they have to say."

The AARP is concerned, Phillips said, that funds for the proposed expansion of pipeline capacity and liquefied natural gas storage facilities would come through a surcharge, rather than in a standard rate increase.

Surcharges, say consumer advocates, can lead to overcharges and excessive earnings by utilities.

The cost of projects like the one proposed by AGL should be included in the utility's general rates, which would get more scrutiny, they say. The PSC staff reviews rates to make sure a monopoly utility's earnings are not excessive.

Utilities say surcharges offer them greater revenue certainty.

AGL residential customers already pay a $1.95 monthly fee and small businesses $5.85 for a pipeline replacement program started in 1998.

A commission decision on the AGL project was scheduled for Oct. 6 in a 4-1 vote by the PSC Tuesday, with Commissioner Robert Baker opposing.

Baker said the PSC staff had not received sufficient information about the project in time to do a thorough analysis of its merits before the vote.

Baker said he did not see a reason for the PSC to vote before December on the project, which would take 10 years to complete but which ratepayers would pay off over 50 years or more.

AGL said starting the project this fall would allow the utility to benefit from low construction and borrowing costs.