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Commission OKs Atmos request for revenue-based rates
Change means lower bills for customers in 2012
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ATLANTA — Customers of Atmos Energy can expect their monthly bills to shrink by about a dollar beginning in February, following a Wednesday decision by the state's Public Service Commission.

The commission, which regulates utilities in Georgia, voted unanimously to approve an alternative form of regulation for the natural gas company that allows it to alter its rates each year based on annual revenues.

For this year, at least, that means a rate reduction for the company's approximately 57,000 customers in Georgia. Some 10,000 of those customers live in Hall County.

The annual request will be based on 12 months of revenues. If those revenues are 0.2 percent above or 0.2 percent below the company's historical return on equity, the company can adjust its rates for the following year.

Board members took only minutes to make their decision Wednesday, and none of the members present had anything negative to say about the new plan.

Atmos representatives, too, said the change would help the company minimize costs associated with filing rate changes with the commission. They say those costs are normally passed on to customers.

Board Chairman Stan Wise called the plan "innovative," saying it "looks a little bit different" and "smells a little bit different" from any other form of regulation in Georgia.

Normally, when utilities in Georgia seek to change their rates, they must file a case with the commission that can cost the company as much as $300,000, said Pat Childers, Atmos vice president for rates and regulatory affairs.

Commissioners say they will still be the final arbiters of Atmos' proposals.

The proposal for alternative regulation came as an effort at controlling the company's expenses, Childers said.

"It's a pretty expensive cost that's ultimately passed on to the customers," she said. "We were looking for a way to streamline the cost and provide transparency in the process, still giving the staff every opportunity to review our expenses."

Under the new plan, the company will submit regular financial reports to the commission's staff and file an annual rate request on Oct. 1.

"We'll go ahead and be able to review all the things we get in a rate case without the time, without the effort, without a great deal of expense," Wise said.

New rates would become effective in February or April, following at least 120 days of review by commission staff.

Atmos has similar forms of regulation in Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, Childers said.

"This is a new mechanism in Georgia, but a mechanism similar to this exists across the United States," she said.