Georgia Power faces class-action suit accusing it of inflating fees

A Fulton County judge has granted class-action status in a long-running lawsuit claiming Georgia Power overcharged customers for more than a decade. The status means the case now covers virtually all of the company’s 2.5 million customers statewide, a swipe with somewhat rare sweep against Georgia’s largest utility.

But the case, first filed in 2011, is far from over. It goes before the state’s utility regulator — the Georgia Public Service Commission — for comment before being heard by Fulton Superior Court Judge Rachel Krause.

The suit argues that Georgia Power continues to inflate municipal franchise fees that are included in monthly electric bills, assessing them not just based on electricity revenue but incorrectly also on a financing fee tied to the Vogtle nuclear project as well as on a fee for environmental compliance.

The suit doesn't question the nuclear or environmental fees themselves, which also are part of Georgia Power bills. Nor does it challenge the overall Vogtle nuclear expansion.

John Salter, an attorney arguing the case for plaintiffs, said the cumulative billing overages since 2008 could be “easily exceeding tens of millions of dollars.”

Georgia Power spokesman Jeff Wilson wrote in an email Monday that the company “believes the plaintiffs’ claims have no merit and the company will continue to vigorously defend itself in this matter.”

He added that Georgia Power will continue to “appropriately collect revenue via the Municipal Franchisee Fee tariff that has been reviewed and approved by the Georgia PSC.”

The judge’s ruling, issued last week, expands the case from five named defendants. They are represented by former top Georgia political leaders from different parties. The suit was filed by Republican ex-House Speaker Glenn Richardson and joined by former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.

If they win, the ultimate payout won’t be a big financial windfall to individual consumers, Richardson said Monday.

Still, he said, “it is huge for ratepayers who have very little voice in this whole process….It says you can stand up to Georgia Power.”