Friday, February 6, 2009

Nuke Financing Passes Committee, Goes to Full Senate
by Maggie Lee
Georgia Online News Service

A controversial rate hike for Georgia Power consumers will come before the Senate as early as Monday, and if the result of debate in a packed committee hearing is any indication, it may get Senate approval.

Senate Bill 31 would allow Georgia Power to tack a charge onto power bills to pay for the financing of construction costs for two new planned nuclear power plants near Augusta. The surcharges would begin in 2011, starting at $1.30 per household per month, then rising to $9.10 by 2017. But the plants will only start making electricity in 2016 at the earliest.

Currently, Georgia Power is allowed to recoup plant construction and finance costs from ratepayers only after the plants come online. Those rates are governed by the Public Service Commission, the elected body that sets consumer power rates. That way, only people who actually use the plant pay for it.

But because nuclear can help Georgia deliver cheaper power, a major enticement for manufacturing, Georgia Power deserves some leeway around the PSC's "hampering", says the bill's sponsor, Don Balfour (R-Snellville).

"We've got to figure out how to promote nuclear. And this is one way to do it," Balfour said in exasperation at the end of his testimony before the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.

Balfour also denied that the bill is a sweetheart deal for industry, as a PSC analysis argues. He testified that rate hikes will hit all users in the same proportion that they always pay for Georgia Power construction costs, but stopped short of saying all customers pay out equally.

Capacity upgrade charges under this bill would be divvied up as usual, explained Georgia Power comptroller Ann Daiss, but admitted that the usual is not strictly equal. "This bill does not say industrial customers don't pay for this charge," she told the Senate committee. "What it does say is that for those customers that normally pay for capacity charges, which is almost all of our customers, they will pay."

Those partially exempt are the so-called "real time pricing customers", certain industrial and commercial users. Some 14% of Georgia Power's energy revenue would be exempt, according to a company statement. The PSC alleges the figure is 37.7%. Georgia Power has also applied for some low-interest financing from the Department of Energy, something Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) brought up. "I'm trying to determine what would be the best for the people who are going to pay … would it not be better for them if you could borrow all federal money?" Williams asked.

But Daiss said Georgia Power doesn't know when the federal department might decide on the financing, and besides the loan would not be earmarked for the plants.

In fact, as the senate mulls SB 31, the PSC is considering almost exactly the same proposal from Georgia Power. The utility is both approaching its regulator and its regulator's masters in the legislature.

The importance of certain financing is the motive, according to Georgia Power. If the General Assembly approves the bill, it would allow the rate hike for Georgia Power without going before the PSC.

The Senate committee ended by passing the bill in an 8-2 vote after the second round of hearings on Feb. 4. Only Williams and Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) dissented, favoring a version of the bill that would have substantially returned the decision to the PSC.

The bill only affects Georgia Power ratepayers. The state's electric membership cooperatives and municipally owned utilities are unregulated and may start billing for their portion of costs on the two nuclear plants at any time.

The PSC has not yet formally approved even the construction of the two nuclear plants, though the approval is widely expected soon.

Maggie Lee specializes in quality of life topics, Atlanta's international communities and general reporting. She covers Georgia economic development and the Chinese community as a stringer for China Daily and chronicles life in Georgia's most diverse county for the DeKalb Champion.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. It's the end of another week that's seen temps plunge into the mid-teens overnight across Georgia to not even breaking freezing while the sun's up. Now we're heading into the weekend with darn-near balmy temperatures. While it's a welcome change from the past two days, I'm siding with the sage senior citizen I encountered at my local YMCA this morning who said: "Warming up is good, but these changes'll kill ya!"

If state Senator Eric Johnson gets his way, change will come to our schools by way of vouchers. In today's Green Sheet you will find his Soapbox column that outlines why he has introduced legislation to create vouchers that would allow parents more choice in choosing schools for their kids. His column is a direct refutation of the stand GONSO Editor John Sugg took recently and we're offering a link to Sugg's original column here for you to use as a counterpoint on your op-ed pages. Put 'em side by side and see for yourself.

GONSO's Wendy Parker spends signing day with new Georgia State football coach Bill Curry as he recruits his first class of players for the debut 2010 team.

The Senate could vote as early as Monday on Georgia Power's plan to start charging residential customers for a nuclear power plant that has yet to be built. GONSO's Maggie Lee has a powerful preview of our electrical future might be.

And GONSO's bon vivant columnist Hollis Gillespie made a visit to the capitol and came away thinking it takes all kinds to make the government work, from the suits to the criminals. Now, who's who, exactly?

As always, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org. You can also call us at 800-891-3459.

Your input is crucial to what we do. Have a great, and warm, weekend.

-- Lee Landenberger, Managing Editor


Today's GONSO

Nuke Financing Passes Committee, Goes to Full Senate

by Maggie Lee
The Senate could vote as early as Monday on Georgia Power's plan to start charging residential customers for a nuclear power plant that has yet to be built. GONSO's Maggie Lee reports.
Full Story

Eight months in a cloud of dust and paperwork lead to GSU's very first football players

by Wendy Parker
For schools like Georgia and Florida, Signing Day is about landing football players who can take their team to the championship. For Georgia State, which will field its first NCAA football team in 2010, this year's Signing Day meant the birth of a team. GONSO's Wendy Parker follows Head Coach Bill Curry as the school signs, after an 8-month chase, its first players for the upcoming season.
Full Story

Capitol Debts to Pay

by Hollis Gillespie
Bon vivant columnist Hollis Gillespie made a visit to the state capitol's cafeteria and found that sometimes it's hard to tell who's a criminal and who's not. Then again, there's the guy wearing the Department of Corrections shirt who works in the cafeteria.
Full Story

SOAPBOX

Vouchers are the way schools can improve themselves

by Senator Eric Johnson
Competition is one of the keystones of American society. Without it, writes state Senator Eric Johnson of Savannah, schools won't improve. His legislation to create a voucher system would change the landscape for the state of Georgia, a landscape that, he writes, desperately needs improvement. He's at odds with GONSO Executive Editor John Sugg, who sees vouchers as exactly the wrong idea.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
Legislators prep bills to tackle Georgia's sex trade 'underworld'
by K. Patrick Jensen
Set 'em up Joe for another round on Sunday alcohol sales
by K. Patrick Jensen
Peanut catastrophe shows Georgia must be aggressive in protecting consumers from food contamination
by J. Randolph Evans
Time for Georgians to get real about taxes
by Rep. Stacey Abrams

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