ATLANTA — Electricity bills for Georgia residents would increase more than 10 percent under a proposal Georgia Power filed Thursday as the utility copes with slumping sales and the increased costs of upgrading plants in a recession.
The proposed increases are some of the largest the Southern Co. subsidiary has requested since two nuclear reactors that went badly over budget began operating in eastern Georgia during the late 1980s. The new rates would take effect in January for 2.4 million customers if state regulators approve the plan.
Coming in the middle of a deep recession, the increases are sure to raise the ire of retirees and other payers.
“We understand the significance of this case,” said Ann Daiss, Georgia Power’s comptroller and vice president. “It is a challenge in this economy.”
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Under the plan, a typical residential customer would pay just under $11 a month in new costs starting next year. Those bills would escalate through 2013 as Georgia Power recoups the cost of installing equipment meant to cut harmful emissions from its coal-fired power plants and builds new, natural gas generators at Plant McDonough.
Additional charges are likely for Georgia Power customers.
A new law permits the utility to charge its customers starting in January for the costs of financing two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. If the federal government approves the project, it would mark the nation’s first groundbreaking on a nuclear power plant in three decades.
Raising utility bills during one of the country’s worst recessions since the Great Depression is unpopular with consumer advocates including the AARP, which represents retirees on fixed incomes. It wants the state’s Public Service Commission to hear testimony from customers around Georgia before voting on the plan in December.
“We’d like to see the commission get out of the hearing room, get into the state and talk to the people whose rates are going to increase,” said Will Phillips, associate state director for advocacy for AARP Georgia.
As part of its plan, Georgia Power wants to more frequently assess how much it charges for electricity.
Right now, the utility is required to set its base electricity prices at least every three years.
Instead, the company has proposed assessing its projected costs before the start of a calendar year. If Georgia Power anticipates making more profit than allowed by regulators, the utility would lower its rates. If it anticipates making too little, the firm could increase prices.
Daiss said the system should help consumers because it would make their electricity bills less volatile as the nation recovers from a deep recession. As the economy grows, electricity usage is expected to increase, raising more cash for Georgia Power and blunting the need for rate hikes.
“Since we’re in the midst of this recovery, if the economy recovers faster than we think it will be, they’ll get the benefit faster than otherwise possible,” Daiss said.