Georgia Power rate hike case may be delayed

Georgia Power may be asked to delay its request for a 6 percent rate increase until next year.

State utility regulators were scheduled to take up Georgia Power’s proposed $482 million rate hike Tuesday, but the five-member panel agreed to postpone the hearings for one day.

Commissioner Bubba McDonald said the commission may ask the utility to delay its request, which would add $8 to the average residential bill, because of uncertainty about various issues that could affect a decision.

“We need to have the best information that we can have to pursue this case … if we make a decision that we extend this the rest of this year or maybe have the company refile again in June of next year, nothing would change,” McDonald said.

He cited uncertainties about federal budgets, and future environmental rules for coal-fired power plants.

McDonald said his concerns include the effect of the Affordable Health Care Act; pending rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-burning plants; and whether consumers will keep paying for a centralized nuclear waste storage facility that does not exist.

Georgia Power customers pay for the utility’s operational expenses, which include health care and pension costs, and one-third of the rate hike request is to cover environmental costs such as pollution-control equipment.

Georgia Power filed its request to raise rates, as required by the PSC, in June. The commission could either delay its consideration of that request or ask Georgia Power to file anew next year.

June comes after the qualifying period for elections and probably after the state’s primary election, likely scheduled for May 20. McDonald and Commissioner Doug Everett have said they will run for new six-year terms on the PSC.

A Georgia Power spokesman said the utility “is in constant communication with the commission and with PSC staff.”

An additional delay or change has “got to be something that’s satisfactory to the commission and our staff and to make sure ratepayers are protected in the interim,” PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton said.

Georgia Power and PSC staff attorneys met Tuesday to review the issues, Eaton said. Any additional changes will have to be discussed in an open hearing today.

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