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King: Where is outrage over power rate hike?
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Oh I know people are angry — angry about the recession, angry about unemployment, angry about taxes and bureaucratic regulations. But all this anger seems a bit unfocused to me.

We can yell and wave banners all we want, but in the end there is little an ordinary citizen can do about unemployment, the recession and so forth except vote to "throw the rascals out." If our anger and efforts aren't more targeted than that, all we'll do is usher a new gang of rascals in.

By "outrage" I mean anger over a specific insult and some attempt to confront the parties responsible.

Why aren't we outraged at Georgia Power Co.'s plan to raise our electricity rates again. Why aren't more of us venting to the Public Service Commission. They're the people with the power to grant or withhold rate increases.

The PSC consists of five members elected statewide to oversee and regulate Georgia's utilities, but as it functions today, these members do not serve the public. They are the handmaidens of these utilities.

Despite general anger over taxes, no government can function without a source of income. Every politician running for office knows this. No public office can exist without a steady flow of cash. One solution is to find ways to get that cash without calling it a tax.

Last year, Georgia Power wanted to raise rates to cover the cost of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. After intense lobbying by Georgia Power and its parent company, the Southern Co., the Georgia legislature said OK. This tax — excuse me, this rate increase — goes into effect in January.

Please note: The need for nuclear power is not a given. The design for these new reactors has not yet been approved, and even if plant construction goes as planned, the reactors will not provide any new electrical power till 2016 or 2017. Meanwhile, the cost of nuclear is going up while the cost of alternatives is going down. Wind and solar systems are coming on line every day.

Nevertheless, Georgia Power is obsessed with nuclear expansion and wants another infusion of money. It lost a recent dispute with their contractors, and it's going to cost it — or the ratepayer, if the PSC approves the increase — another $108 million to continue construction.

Not only does Georgia Power want another rate increase, it wants automatic increases in the future, with few or no questions asked. The only thing standing between Georgia Power's plan and the ratepayer is the Public Service Commission. Can it be trusted to defend the public interest? If history is any guide, it can't.

This is particularly outrageous because once again the ratepayer is being asked to pay for Georgia Power's mistakes. Nuclear power was economic boondoggle from the very beginning. The original cost estimate for the first two reactors at Plant Vogtle was $660 million. Before they were finished, they cost $8.87 billion, and Georgia Power nearly went bankrupt.

This economic outlook for these two new reactors is so daunting that both Moody's Investor Service and Fitches Ratings have lowered Georgia Power's credit rating from stable to negative.

The final insult: Georgia Power says its current rate of profit (11.25 percent) is too low because nuclear power is economically risky, and it needs to guarantee a higher rate of return through automatic rate increases to attract new investors.

In other words, nuclear power is not a safe investment so give us more money to build more new reactors. It is a little like the man who killed his parents and asked the court for leniency because he was an orphan.

If, by chance, you are outraged, phone the Public Service Commission at 800-282-5813 or write to it at 244 Washington St. SW, Atlanta, GA 30334. And if you are really, really mad, attend its next meeting at 9 a.m. Nov. 8 in Atlanta.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

 

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