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Georgia Power could face new law to disclose its cost of power generation on customer bills

(Credit: John McCosh/ Georgia Recorder)

Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
February 28, 2024

A bill aimed at increasing transparency into Georgia Power customer’s bills has cleared the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee ahead of a critical deadline this week.

The House committee unanimously approved on Tuesday Chairman Don Parsons’ House Bill 1406 that would require Georgia Power to provide on customer bills information about the average overall cost of fuel used by the electric supplier to generate kilowatt hours of electricity charged to the customer for the billing period.

It’s the second time in recent days the state’s largest electricity supplier with strong lobbyist representation at the state Capitol has been the subject of proposals to rein in some of its business practices. Late last week, a state Senate committee supported a bill proposing the creation of a consumer advocate to represent ratepayer interests with Georgia Power files for a rate hike.

Parsons said he drafted the bill so customers can better understand how much the state’s largest utility company charges based on energy costs. The information includes the average cost for Georgia Power to produce a kilowatt hour of electricity from coal, natural gas, solar and nuclear energy over the previous year.

The fate of the bill now rests with the House Rules Committee ahead of Thursday’s Crossover deadline for legislation to advance out of one chamber during the 2024 session.

Parsons said that during his 30 years of serving on utilities legislation committees, he could only recall Georgia Power supporting legislation that it asked a lawmaker to sponsor. The bill comes on the heels of  state regulators approving several Georgia Power bill increases due to increased electricity base rates, overrun costs associated with building the Vogtle nuclear power plant units, coal ash cleanup and other expenses.

“I think having this kind of transparency could really alleviate a lot of those concerns, particularly when  fuel costs go up also happens to be around the same time that another rate hike happens,” said Parsons, a Marietta Republican.

Jeff Grubb, director of resource and  policy planning at Georgia Power said one of the reasons the company opposes the bill is that a good deal of the information can be found on the customer bills and the company’s website.

For example, Georgia Power updates its fuel costs for energies like coal, nuclear and natural gas every year under the company’s facts and figures section online, he said.

Grubb cautioned that many customers could become confused by including information that’s not directly tied to the rates customers are paying on that particular bill.

“If customers are looking to make changes to their bill, or to add a resource or behind the meter solar, we have teams that will work with those customers and provide them all the information that they need to make those types of decisions,” Grubb said.

Grubb said that when a customer’s power bills fluctuate, it’s typically due to the usage of electricity and the fuel costs Georgia Power receives is determined in rate cases that goes before the Public Service Commision. The company can come back later to recoup some of the extra fuel costs if they exceeded projections  based on the energy commodities market, Grubb said. 

He also said that providing how much Georgia Power has paid for fuel within the past couple of months puts the company at risk of providing trade secrets in a volatile energy market. 

“We have less concern or no concern with something from last year a few months ago, but something that we just got finished with and our annual expenses in a month causes us concerns from a business confidentiality point because it could harm customers,” Grubb said.

Parsons said that Grubb must think Georgia Power has a lot of “dumb” customers who will be confused by providing more information on what it costs to do business.

“If I’m getting a new roof put on the house and the contractor tells me this summer this is going to cost this much, I say well, okay, how much does it cost you for each bundle of roofing material that you use? I would expect him to tell me how much,” Parsons said.

“I don’t know why Georgia Power would not want to provide this basic information to a customer. You keep talking about proprietary secrets and things like that,” Parsons said. “You’re defending the company, but you’re not looking out for the customer.”

Bob Sherrier, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, says Georgia Power’s policy with the Public Service Commission lets the company charge customers 100% of its fuel costs.

“For example, in last year’s (fuel cost recovery) proceeding, the average residential bill was increased by about $16 a month to pay for mostly gas spikes the prior year,” he said. “I think that this is a good bill and that this kind of information is important for the people who actually have to pay for it to know.”

Rep. Beth Camp, a Concord Republican, said she would appreciate a breakdown of coal, natural gas, nuclear, and solar power on her Georgia Power bill.

Woodstock Republican Rep. Jordan Ridley recommended that Georgia Power get out of the electricity business if it is so concerned about protecting trade secrets.

“Anytime we have government-run monopolies, we need to have as much transparency as possible,” he said.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.