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Rogers fights Atmos on rate hike proposal
Utility asks to add about $4 per month to bills
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Public hearing
What: The Public Service Commission will seek input from customers of Atmos Energy on a proposed rate increase that could increase bills by as much as $4 a month.
When: 6:30-8 p.m. March 8
Where: 116 Spring St. in the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ board room

A proposal by Atmos Energy to raise Georgia customers’ rates by about $4 a month has been met with opposition by state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, who says the timing is poor.

Rogers has asked the state’s Public Service Commission to hold a public hearing next month in Gainesville to give local customers a chance to voice their opinion on the proposed rate increase.

Atmos Energy, which provides natural gas service to Gainesville and Oakwood residents, filed a request in October for a rate increase for Georgia customers. The company last received a green light to increase rates in September 2008.

When it filed for the most recent increase, Atmos cited rising operating costs and a loss of customers as reasons. The company’s proposal would net the company approximately $3.7 million in new revenue that would help pay for the gas lines and other infrastructure Atmos has built in Georgia during the past five years, said Joel Ames, Atmos’ manager of public affairs.

“It really is to allow us to continue operating a safe and efficient gas system in Georgia,” said Ames. “We’ve made a business case to the Public Service Commission based on our investment and our costs.”

But Rogers said he is opposed to a rate hike right now. Besides the fact the proposal is Atmos’ third request for a rate increase in four years, Rogers said it comes at a bad time.

“In the times we’re in right now, it’s wrong to help them increase their revenues and to benefit the shareholders,” Rogers said. “... If the economy was a little bit better for all of us it wouldn’t be an issue; now it is an issue. People can’t afford it. I can’t afford it.”

Rogers asked the commission to hold a meeting in Gainesville to give local customers, who only have one choice of natural gas provider, a better opportunity to speak their mind on the issue. Rogers said the commission had not planned to hold a local hearing.

Already, the commission has held two hearings in Atlanta on the proposed rate increase. And its public interest advisory staff has proposed a rate increase that is half what Atmos proposed, said Bill Edge, the commission’s public information officer.

At Rogers’ request, the panel will allow public comment on the proposal at 6:30 p.m. March 8 at the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ board room at 116 Spring St. The Public Service Commission will hold another hearing March 11 to hear the company’s rebuttal, and a final decision will be made by March 29, Edge said.

If the state commission does not approve Atmos’ rate increase, the company will make a decision on how to move forward — a decision that may mean filing another request with the commission, Ames said.

“We make a rate case based on what we see happening with our investments and our return, and you know, if at some future point we realize the amount granted is not enough, then we come back with another rate case and ask for another review of our rates,” he said.

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