“Ga. Public Service Commission Approves $8B Utility Merger”

Atlanta-based Southern Co. says it’s set to become the second-largest utility provider in the country after the Georgia Public Service Commission on Thursday approved a reported $8 billion merger deal with AGL Resources, a natural gas provider serving several states.

“Natural gas is the fuel of the future, and having a closer relationship to a gas company, for Southern Co., means cheaper prices, I believe, for our Georgia power ratepayers way out into the future,” said Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols. “This is a great deal for Georgia.”

Echols said Atlanta-based AGL was being courted by other states, and the merger deal ensures the company will stay in Georgia.

“Just think about all the employees that would have left and the salaries they make, the money they spend, the Varsity hot dogs they eat — so keeping them here is huge,” he said.

As part of the deal, Georgia Power, which is owned by Southern Co., won’t increase electricity rates until at least 2019.

“That’s a big give up for the company, and that’s a benefit that the ratepayers get,” said Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise.

“The company says if we need to do something different, we’ll do it in belt-tightening; we’ll have a hiring freeze,” he said.

Wise said Southern Co.’s profits are being watched closely by Wall Street.

The deal and the rate freeze won’t go into effect, according to a commission spokesperson, until all the states involved approve the merger.

Georgia Watch, a consumer advocacy group, supports the agreement. Its executive director, Liz Coyle, said the rate freeze “has the potential to provide some cost savings for all Georgia Power customers,” although she would have liked to see benefits specific to low-income customers.