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Posted: Tuesday, October 29th 2013 at 10:52pm

Georgia Power rate increase request generates sparks

By Marc Eggers Staff
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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Solar expert Shane Owl-Greason shares his opinion
GAINESVILLE – Georgia Public Service Commission member Tim Echols addressed the audience Tuesday evening in the Brenau Downtown Center, saying, “There’s really no perfect form of energy out there, even solar has its issues.”

Echols and fellow Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald had traveled from Atlanta to hear the opinions and suggestions of consumers in northeast Georgia at an open town-meeting sponsored by consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch and environmental organization, the Sierra Club.

Tonight’s meeting, being the third of four across the state, was organized because Georgia Power has requested permission to raise their power rates by $478 million at year’s end. They need the Public Service Commission’s consent to do so as the utility operates under the Commission’s aegis. The Commission wants consumer input.

Eleven citizen/consumers and business owners did just that, stepping to the podium to express their disapproval of the rate increase request, focusing their protests on two main areas.

Argument one: why should Georgia Power be able to raise their rates so as to guarantee a profit of 11.5 percent when private enterprises struggle to make that level of return?

Argument two: why should Georgia Power be allowed to charge a fee to consumers who use their own solar panels to reduce their power bills?

“I’m not really here to defend Georgia Power’s rates,” Echols added. “My job is to make energy policy for Georgia…by regulating Georgia Power.”

Echols explained that the Commission can only respond to the requests formally made by the utility. He said that it is not the Commission’s responsibility to create those requests.

McDonald, who unabashedly admits his bias towards nuclear power plants followed in line by solar power production, augmented Echols’ explanation of the Commission’s mission. “We have a responsibility to the consumers of Georgia…we also, under law, have a fiduciary responsibility to the monopoly (Georgia Power) itself.”

“We could starve the utility to death…but we don’t need that,” McDonald continued. “We need to have it reliable so that when you need the lights on and the freezer to run, it is there.”

“We can kick Georgia Power Company all we want to, but let me tell you who is out there at midnight when somebody takes out a (power) pole, or when the wind blows and the ice hits those trees,” McDonald said.

Johnny Valentine owns a solar installation company in Gainesville. He describes himself as a Millennial. “What we’re battling is a big bully,” Valentine said. “They’re trying to suppress an industry that doesn’t need to be suppressed.”

Debbie Dooley heads up the newly-formed Green Tea Coalition. The Dacula resident is also the national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots and co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party.

During her time at the dais Dooley joined the criticism of the Solar Tariff requested by Georgia Power. “I am just amazed at the unmitigated gall of Georgia Power…trying to punish people…trying to tax equipment that they put on their private property.”

“What you do on your private property should be your business,” Dooley continued. “You should not be taxed for that. This is an underhanded attempt to discourage people from moving off the grid.”

The Commission will make their decision on the power company’s rate increase request December 17th. Several more public hearings are scheduled before that vote, but Commissioner McDonald may have “tipped his hand” regarding his position on the Solar Tariff.

“Gas is a commodity; coal is a commodity. I don’t know what their prices will be six years from now or twenty years from now,” McDonald said.

“But I’ll tell you one thing: that sun will be shining and it’s free! It’s free. Georgia Power doesn’t own it; the Public Service Commission doesn’t own it. It’s free.”
Associated Categories: Homepage, Business News, Local/State News, Politics

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