You are about to lose several hundred dollars. Don’t let it happen.

State regulators at the Public Service Commission determine how much Georgia Power can charge you for electricity. Because the utility has a monopoly on selling something we can’t live without, the PSC’s five commissioners are elected statewide and are supposed to protect the public’s interest. Now is the time to make sure they do their job — otherwise, the public is about to take it on the chin.

By December, the PSC will issue a ruling in Georgia Power’s first “rate case” in six years, meaning it will set new rules for Georgia Power’s rate structure. Historically, the PSC has given Georgia Power essentially whatever it proposes. Although there have been some public hints from the PSC commissioners that there may be limits to the size of the approved rate hike, you don’t have to look too far into the past to see Georgia Power getting what amounts to a blank check. The recent history of approvals for outrageous cost overruns at nuclear Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 are a great example. Ratepayers have paid billions of dollars beyond the originally proposed budgets for nuclear power plants that still aren’t in service.

Georgia Power’s current rate proposal is just as wrong, mostly because it is deeply unfair. The company is arguing that it needs an additional $2.2 billion dollars from the public each year. If the commission blesses this proposal, the company will be extracting most of that money from the pockets of their poorest consumers.

Here’s the deal: Georgia Power thinks it’s is important to be able to brag about offering a low price per therm, a unit of measuring heat. It’s a little like Walmart bragging about low prices — they come at a cost. Talking about cheap electricity appeals to the big energy users, like industrial manufacturers. To build those “low prices” into their rate structure, Georgia Power is asking for the right to raise the fee for individual consumers to simply have an account.

Right now, you pay $10 a month just to have a meter hooked up to the grid. That fee will go up to $17.95 by 2022. Combined with other increases that will hit consumers, you can count on paying at least $300 more a year for your electricity. And that’s just for people with bills around $65 per month. Bigger users will see slightly larger increases. As bad as that sounds, here’s the real crime: The rate structure they propose is so crazy, it actually disincentivizes conservation. Using less energy will save you only pennies. Just being a customer will cost you plenty.

If approved, Georgia Power customers would be paying among the highest mandatory monthly fees in America to their privately owned power company. Customers who use less energy than average or have below-average income will be hit hardest by the increase: seniors on fixed incomes and renters in apartment buildings tend to be low energy users. Raising mandatory fees on these people will cause some serious hardship.

The fixed fee increase also hurts those who have taken steps to become more energy efficient, those who have installed their own solar panels, weatherized their homes or purchased appliances that use less electricity. We should be incentivizing folks to conserve energy, not finding ways to squeeze more money from them.

Georgia Power says it needs more money to clean up storm damage and to comply with environmental rules. Those goals, along with providing safe, clean, affordable and reliable electricity, are certainly laudable. But the company has the ability to do all of those things without coming hat in hand to hard-working Georgians.

There’s no reason the PSC should sign off on a regressive rate structure that will force people to choose between keeping their power on or buying food or medicine. That’s what this proposal would do. It’s wrong and the PSC needs to firmly say no to Georgia Power.

You can have a voice. The PSC is taking comments from the public in the Georgia Power Rate Case until Nov. 25. Getting heard is simple. Write an email to the PSC at gapsc@psc.ga.gov with “Comment on Georgia Power Rate Case” in the subject line. Tell them what you think about higher utility bills and increasing the fixed charge that you’ll pay whether or not you flip on a lightswitch. And remember, if our regulatory watchdogs on the commission get this wrong, you have the power to vote these people out of office.

Jeff Schoenberg is the chair of the Sierra Club Georgia Chapter’s Executive Committee.

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