Georgia Power Wants Solar Tax to Recoup Consumers’ Savings
(APN) ATLANTA — The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) has finished months of public and expert testimony on Georgia Power’s request for a 482 million dollar rate increase and an increase in the company’s guaranteed profit from 11.15 percent to 11.50 percent.
Georgia Power is also asking for a surcharge of $5.56 per kilowatt on self-generated power from solar panels, plus a solar tariff, on customers who install solar panels after January
The PSC is expected to consider the requests at its December 17, 2013, administrative session.
If approved, the 482 million dollar rate hike would add nearly eight dollars per month to the average residential bill. The solar tax is another 22 dollars for residential customer and commercial solar systems who add solar after January 01.
According to Georgia Watch, this is on top of Georgia Power increases since 2003 that have added over 44 dollars per month to household electric bills.
The Georgia Sierra Club, AARP Georgia, and Georgia Watch sponsored informational town hall meetings in Athens, Columbus, Gainesville, and Savannah, Georgia, in October to let the Commissioners hear public input on Georgia Power’s requests for more money.
If those requests are approved by the PSC in mid-December this year, they will go into effect New Year’s Day 2014.
Hundreds of ratepayers and small business owners responded to the town hall meetings with an overwhelming “NO” to all of Georgia Power’s requests.
The solar tariff or tax received impassioned and sometimes angry rebuttals from solar owners and solar companies. Solar companies said the solar tax would hurt emerging solar businesses in Georgia, while others said it would put them out of business.
“Georgia Power is punishing people who do not use one hundred percent of their product. They are bullying people and solar companies who want to move just a little off the grid. They are saying we do not have the right to save money on our utility bill by using solar and want to tax people for solar equipment they put on their private property,” Debbie Dooley with the Green Tea Coalition testified.
“Solar in other states has incentives, but not in Georgia. Georgia Power wants the PSC to vote for their disincentives to buy and use solar in Georgia because the monopoly does not want any competition,” Renee Warrick, Managing Partner with Present Energy in LaGrange, said.
“Unconscionable” and “theft” were two of the words used at the Savannah town hall meeting to describe a residential rate hike and fee on solar installations proposed by Georgia Power, as reported by the Savannah Morning News website.
One of Georgia Power’s arguments for the solar tax is that people who can’t afford solar panels are subsidizing people who have solar.
They have not shown the same concern, however, for senior citizens on fixed income, for example, who are paying a Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery Tax which subsidizes future consumers.
Many believe the real reason is for Georgia Power’s proposal is their fear of competition from young entrepreneurs who want to come into Georgia and create jobs, opportunities, and choices for ratepayers. The solar tax seems to be a way for Georgia Power to get back the money consumers are trying to save by using solar.
“I have two words to describe the proposed solar tariffs on Georgia Power customers: scared and disappointed. Scared because this sets a dangerous precedent, charging customers extra for reduced usage with solar. Disappointed that Georgia has not chosen to be a global leader in solar technology,” Brian Sloan, a homeowner testified.
As reported earlier by Atlanta Progressive News, the 1973 Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act makes it illegal for anybody but Georgia Power to sell electricity to a Georgia home or business. It also prevents anyone who buys solar panels or any other form of energy generation from selling their excess energy to anyone except Georgia Power.
Territorial Electric Service Act of 1973 is a regulatory contract that divides the state into zones where Georgia Power and various cooperatives each have monopolies.
“Part of that regulatory contract was that the monopoly will act in the best interest of the ratepayer and we [the ratepayers] would never have to fight them for the political power we [ratepayers] voluntarily gave to Georgia Power,” Shane Owl-Greason with the Green Tea Coalition, and founder of Georgia Solar Utilities, said.
The company said the 482 million dollar rate increase is to cover the costs of pollution controls, smart-grid technology, transmission lines, and customer service.
The company claims 152 million dollars annually is for upgrades to the Company’s dirty and outdated coal plants. Georgia Power wants customers to pay in advance for coal plant upgrades it won’t start using until 2016.
“The time is not ripe for Georgia Power to collect rates for upgrades to its coal plants. Since, as it reports in its 2012 annual report, 46 percent of its capacity is unused, it should look forward instead to retiring more of its coal fleet, certainly not to sink more public money into a poisonous and out-moded coal power supply,” Glenn Carroll Coordinator Nuclear Watch South, told APN.
Expert consultants advising the PSC staff recommended that the PSC should order Georgia Power to cut utility rates instead of raising rates on consumers. The consultants said the utility should drop rates by 165 million dollars and stop charging customers for a stock-bonus plan for senior executives.
The PSC was also advised to not allow Georgia Power to charge ratepayers for a 16 million dollar million stock option program and 175,000 dollars for estate planning, tax planning, and personal risk management services for their corporate executives.
“Georgia Power customers should not be required to pay Georgia Power’s cost of doing business, such as expansion, new plant construction, construction cost overruns, overhead, poor business decisions, and miscellaneous hidden charges,” John Howard, a Georgia Power customer, told the PSC.
Another expert witness recommended the return on equity be dropped 115 basis points to be more in line with other utilities, which is around ten percent, and not raise Georgia Power’s 11.15 percent guaranteed profit to 11.5.
The PSC asked questions about the company’s credit rating and stock price, and Commissioners said they were concerned that their decision would not hurt the company or lose jobs for Georgia.
“When they [Georgia Power] are finished with us, they are not going to provide a cigarette,” Gary Peters, owner of All American Solar Services, said.