By Hyacinth Manacap Empinado
Citizens voiced their opposition to a proposed Georgia Power rate hike at a town hall meeting Wednesday evening at the University of Georgia Chapel.
Dozens of people urged Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols to vote against the rate hike and stop Georgia Power from tacking on extra fees to residents with solar panels and using the increased revenue to subsidize upgrades on existing coal-fired plants.
According to the Savannah Morning News, the proposed rate hike would have the average resident pay $8 more a month on their utilities.
In addition, the power company wants to charge a fee to those who install solar panels but still require electricity from the company. Homeowners with a typical solar panel installation will pay an extra $22 a month.
Georgia Power is also asking the commission to increase their guaranteed profit to 11.5 percent, according to the Georgia Watch and Sierra Club press release.
Echols says that part of the money will be used to clean up older coal plants and convert some plants to burn cleaner, natural gas.
If approved, the hikes will take effect in 2014.
Basil Campbell, Athens resident and a Georgia Power customer, told Echols to refuse the rate increase and the solar tariff.
“It is the responsibility of the commissioners to ensure that the health and welfare of the people is not overlooked in the name of profit,” Campbell said.
A few wondered why solar power was singled out among other ways of reducing demand from the Georgia Power grid.
“Why only solar panels?” asked Roger Hilten. “It seems very arbitrary to choose that over some other kind of technology. “
Hilten believes that generating his own power is equivalent to anything that increases energy efficiency at home such as adding insulation or putting weather stripping. Hilten installed solar panels in his home during the summer and is thinking about putting in some more.
“Why penalize those who can create their own electricity?” asked Sky Campbell, a certified public accountant. “This is stupid… This looks like Georgia Power is afraid of losing power over their monopoly.”
According to Seth Gunning, one of the organizers of the meeting, the solar tariff will only be imposed on rate-payers who install solar panels after the hikes take effect in 2014. However, homeowners can avoid being charged by selling all the solar energy they produce to the company.
Another of the main concerns was using the increased revenue to upgrade equipment in obsolete coal-fired plants. According to the press release, market trends across the country are shifting away from coal plants.
Sara Black, an anthropology and ecology senior, urged the Public Service Commission not to allow Georgia Power to recoup costs in advance of their coal-fired plants going online.
“While I believe those improvements are necessary and I believe that the public should be investing in those improvements if they are necessary, I think that advanced cost recovery leaves a vacancy of accountability for how that money is being used,” Black said.
Ross Pringle believes that imposing fees on solar power while rate-payers subsidize coal is the wrong way to go.
“We shouldn’t tax something that’s positive like solar power and then subsidizing negative which is dirty coal,” Pringle said.
Tony Di Pietro, a military veteran and law enforcement officer, boils it down to a matter of personal choice.
“The stuff that I have done all my life is to preserve our right to have a choice,” Di Pietro says. “We do not have a choice with more monopoly of Georgia power and them trying to charge a tariff if you would like to put solar power in your own house.”
He adds that in many other states utility companies will gladly purchase excess power from customers.
“Now they want to sit here and tell us we have to pay them and use it,” he says. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to use it. It’s supposed to be a free country.”
The meeting was the last in a series of meetings around Georgia organized by the Sierra Club and Georgia Watch.
The statements heard in the Athens town hall meeting echoed those heard in Savannah, Columbus and Gainesville.
"Every citizen that I have heard from opposes a rate increase," said Echols, the only public service commissioner in the meeting. "The decision, however, is far more complex than just adding up responses. We approve the power company's return on equity and their revenue requirements per Georgia law, and those calculations determine the financial health of the company."
The Georgia Public Service Commissioners will vote on the proposed rate hike on Dec. 7.