A crowd of about 50 people gave Georgia Public Service Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton an earful Monday night concerning a proposed Georgia Power rate hike and controversial proposal to charge solar power users a new fee.
At a public hearing in the auditorium of the Coca-Cola Space Science Center, Eaton heard several audience members call the rate hike "bad business practice" and "unconscionable," while calling the solar proposal "a step backward" and a "disincentive" for modern, clean technology.
At issue is a two-pronged proposal before the PSC. Georgia Power is asking the commissioners to approve a $482 million rate hike that would add almost $100 a year to average residential electric bills, said Seth Gunning, an organizer for the Sierra
Club of Georgia, one of the meeting's sponsors. It is also asking the PSC to allow it to levy a fee on those who install solar panels on their homes or businesses.
One LaGrange, Ga., businessman said Georgia Power is already a monopoly and shouldn't get to have guaranteed profit margins on top of that.
"As a small businessman, I don't have guarantees of profit margins," said Sam Breyfogle. "It seems quite inequitable that a corporation be granted a monopoly would be guaranteed a minimum profit margin."
Another LaGrange resident, Laura Breyfogle, reminded Eaton who he and the other commissioners work for.
"I am thankful that Georgia Power is monitored by elected public officials who we elect to act in the best interest for the common good," she said. "I hope that you will choose to represent the majority of Georgia citizens rather than Georgia Power."
Eaton addressed the audience by first stressing that he has not yet decided how he will vote on any aspect of Georgia Power's proposal.
While no representative of Georgia Power was present, Eaton explained the company's rationale for levying the fee of solar power users.
"They've proposed that if you have solar panels that you would pay a surcharge," he explained. "You would be using them only as a backup, but you would still have to have access to electricity."
Eaton said a large percentage of electric bills pay for maintenance on electrical infrastructure.
"Those assets have to be available to you, so you should have to pay for it," Eaton said, again stressing that that is the utility's position, not his.
"It seems to me that this is asking the commission to take a step backwards," said Mary Drake of Columbus.
Monday's meeting was one of several around the state where public service commissioners are getting public input on the utility's proposals.