The Public Service Commission: Part of the power behind Georgia Power

By Angela Speir Phelps

The phrase “a chicken in every pot” was a slogan used during Herbert Hoover’s presidential campaign in 1928. A year later, the Great Depression began. We are very blessed that we are not suffering as those who came before us did, but it’s tough times these days.

Georgia ranks in the top 10 in the country for foreclosure, bankruptcy, and unemployment. During these trying times, if we are going to have a chicken in every pot, then we need to make sure we don’t have the fox guarding the hen house. This scenario comes to mind when I think of recent decisions made by our elected representatives, such as the five statewide elected Public Service Commissioners who voted this week to commit $6.4 billion dollars of consumer’s money to Georgia Power without implementing the safeguards recommended by their own staff.

The Public Service Commission had the opportunity to act in the best interest of the ratepayers and the utility but turned their nose up at the recommendation by the advisory staff and Public Interest Advocacy staff to deny the company’s request for 100 percent CWIP- ch is the prepayment of the construction financing costs for two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle.

The Legislature directed the commission to implement CWIP but it also gave the Commission the authority to put safeguards in place to ensure that it is done in the most responsible way. The Commission’s decision allows Georgia Power to start charging ratepayers in 2011 for the costs of the nuclear plants, even though they would not be completed and in operation until 2017. This results in the prepayment of $1.6 billion to Georgia Power, with 75 percent of that money profit for the company and taxes on the profit six years before the nuclear units produce a single kilowatt of power or we ever benefit from the service. The PSC Public Interest Advocacy Staff, which is charged with balancing the interest of the ratepayer and the utility, stated, “There can be no serious question that CWIP is harmful to ratepayers. It will cost ratepayers more, deprive ratepayers of the use of their money during the construction period, and create intergenerational inequities.” Further, they said “Staff maintains that the Commission should not approve CWIP in any form in this case.” The staff wanted the PSC to hold off until they have more information about the company’s finances in next year’s rate case before making a decision about how to progress with CWIP. However, four commissioners – Stan Wise, Chuck Eaton, Doug Everett, and Lauren “Bubba” McDonald – decided to go against the advice of their staff. They decided to give the company everything they asked for now. The staff advised the commission to wait and if they deemed it necessary at some future point in time, they could implement a less oppressive form of CWIP, which would have been a better alternative for ratepayers. But in spite of that, Wise made the motion to give the company fully what they asked for without hesitation and stated “CWIP saves the ratepayers money – I can’t say that enough”. He can say it all he wants but it doesn’t make it true. If Wise is guarding Georgian’s money, there should be a changing of the guard because he’s certainly not looking out for the best interest of the ratepayer. Eaton, Everett, and McDonald supported Wise’s motion and should be held accountable by the people for their decision.

Commissioner Robert Baker stood up for the people of Georgia and did the right thing when no other commissioner could find the moral capacity or courage to do so. “A chicken in every pot” during these tough economic times? Not likely when foxes are “guarding” the henhouse. We can continue to expect a pig in a poke – an empty bag of promises filled with a bunch of hot air.