Betty Buckner, 73, was among the retirees who urged the Public Service Commission to reject a plan filed in July by the Southern Company subsidiary. If approved, the plan would add just under $11 in costs to a typical monthly electricity bill starting next year. Those monthly bills would increase another $7 through 2013 as the utility recoups the cost of installing equipment to meet tighter environmental standards and builds new natural gas generators at Plant McDonough.
Buckner said she already struggles to pay her $150 electricity bills on a $600 monthly income.
"It's very difficult for me," she said. "Sometimes I get help from my son, but he has a family and kids of his own."
The Rev. Wendell Phillips, a policy advocate for the regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church, said he supported moves by Georgia Power to limit harmful emissions from its coal-fired plants, though he admitted it comes at a financial cost to customers. Still, he said the rate hike was ill-timed and would hurt the poor in a state still recovering from a bruising recession.
"We urge you to avoid this ... negative impact these rate increases will have" on low-income workers and families, Phillips said.
As part of its proposal, Georgia Power could more frequently revise its prices, giving state regulators less time for review.
Right now, the utility is required to set basic electricity rates at least once every three years. Now the power company is proposing to evaluate its prices before the start of the year. If Georgia Power expects to make more money than allowed by regulators, prices would drop. If the utility expects to make too little, the firm could raise rates.
Georgia Power CEO Michael Garrett said the utility has already tried to blunt price hikes for customers by delaying the construction of a new plant, holding off on fuel surcharges and cutting other costs. Even so, Garrett said the power company needs to raise rates to meet the electricity needs of a growing state, maintain its equipment and meet new environmental standards.
"Let me first acknowledge that the state of the economy makes this request very difficult," he said.
The commission is scheduled to vote on Georgia Power's request on Dec. 21.