Atlantans feel pinch of extreme heat, rate hikes in their power bills

Program to help low-income ratepayers afford energy is in high demand. A deadline to enroll is coming Monday



About two dozen people gathered Wednesday outside of the Magnolia Park Community Center near Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 95-degree heat. Some sat in the shade of a large tree and others held up battery-powered fans to their faces, waiting to receive financial relief that might help keep them cool.

Among them was Melnika Colbert, who said her utility bill jumped to $325 in June from about $200 a month earlier. When Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority (FACAA) CEO and President Howard W. Grant finally called her name after a three-hour wait, she exclaimed “That would be me” and walked into the air-conditioned building.

A triple whammy of climate change-influenced and sustained high heat, Georgia Power’s higher summer rates and state regulator-approved rate hikes have driven up utility bills. The Wednesday event drew more than 150 residents. It was one of many similar events the Fulton authority has led this summer to reach those struggling with their bills.

FACAA is one agency that administers the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP. The program provides up to $500 per household for cooling in the summer and heating in the winter. This year’s deadline to apply for LIHEAP in Georgia is Monday.

FACAA officials say their phones are ringing off the hook from would-be enrollees. Through Friday morning, the agency helped process 12,893 applications for heating, cooling and “crisis situations” since April, and they expect to meet or exceed the 15,000 residents the agency served the same period last year.



Pressures from rising food, rent and other costs have strained low-income families. Utility costs also are climbing.

Georgia Power rates increased by an average of $16 per month for residential customers starting on June 1 to pay for the cost of fuel used at the company’s power plants. Another increase will kick in once the third nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle begins commercial operation, with additional rate hikes likely coming to pay for Unit 3 and its twin, Unit 4. That’s on top of two other increases that are set to go into effect on Jan. 1 in each of the next two years.

Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Jennifer Whitfield estimated that these hikes will amount to a $45 increase in monthly bills between January 2023 and 2025. She said that some people are “already unable to pay their bills” and that making these increased payments will be “really, really difficult” for these households.

At FACAA events, Georgia Power representatives signed up residents for programs catered to low-income and elderly customers. Georgia Power Regional Director Misty Fernandez said the company is focused on ensuring “access to clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy” for all customers.

At an Atlanta City Hall event on Monday, more than 450 people enrolled in LIHEAP, Grant said as FACAA staff worked until 10:30 p.m. to accommodate demand.

Not everyone qualifies for LIHEAP assistance, which has limitations based on household income.

The agency directs some low-income residents to nonprofits, but Deborah Opie, an organizer for Georgia Conservation Voters, said that there are “still a lot of people that don’t qualify” for LIHEAP.

“There’s not a gap, there’s a gulf,” Opie said. “And those are the people no one talks about.”



Mallory Steffes, who lives in the Gresham Park area in South DeKalb County, installed a $200 sensor after her energy bill jumped from $352 in May to $876 in June. Steffes said she and her roommate hope the device will alert them when they are using significant amounts of power.

Steffes said they experienced a smaller price hike last summer. This year’s increased cost is uncomfortable, she said, but manageable.

“I don’t know how anyone who works for less than me is going to pay for that,” she said.

In June, 21,567 households disconnected from their Georgia Power services, a 21% increase from May, according to a June report. Fernandez, the Georgia Power regional director, said this disconnection increase is typical in the summer. Of the customers who disconnected in June, three-quarters reconnected to services.

Typically, Fernandez said that “over 70%” of disconnected accounts are reconnected within either the same or the following day. Most accounts are closed after five days of disconnection, she said.

“It’s usually people who have vacated the property or they’re no longer using service at that location,” Fernandez said.

If a National Weather Service advisory or excessive heat warning is put in place before 8 a.m., Georgia Power will not disconnect residential utility services in that area for non-payment of a bill, company spokesperson John Kraft said.

While a significant number of customers reconnect, Whitfield said the fact that customers are disconnected in the first place is troubling.

Opie, with Georgia Conservation Voters, said one woman she spoke with told her that she was not cooking because it “cost too much to use her stove.”

“They’re not turning their A/Cs on,” Opie said of some low-income customers. “They’re keeping their thermostats in the wintertime really low. They’re just trying to make it, and they’re asking anybody and everybody for help to keep the lights on.”

Atlanta City Councilman Byron Amos, who set up a table and offered attendees water at a FACAA event on July 15 event, said that the “need is great” in his district.

“Our population should not have to worry about if they’re going to pay a light bill or eat,” Amos said. “That should not be a worry.”

A note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at