Updated Wednesday at 9:39 a.m.
Georgia Power has spent millions of dollars on personal protective gear, extra cleaning services, and overtime and meals for the company’s frontline essential workers, including people maintaining power lines and keeping power plants running.
Following a close vote by state regulators Tuesday, the utility will be allowed to eventually recoup those costs – $7.7 million for the months of March, April and May – from customers.
“I can’t see how we can tell them that they’ve got to keep people’s electric running without getting paid, while at the same time not allowing them to recover the costs,” said Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore, who introduced the motion to allow Georgia Power to eventually bill customers.
Consumer advocates and the PSC’s staff had argued the company doesn’t need the money.
“Consideration of how the pandemic affects the company needs to be weighed against how the pandemic is affecting its customers,” Rob Trokey, the director of the electric unit at the PSC said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Trokey said Georgia Power has also saved money during the pandemic, but that wasn’t factored in.
At a hearing last week, Jill Kysor, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center asked the Public Service Commission to prioritize customers.
“Especially those that have fallen behind on electric bills during this public health and economic crisis, a crisis that’s certainly not over and not ending anytime soon,” Kysor said.
Georgia Power has had a moratorium on shutting off service during the pandemic. The moratorium ends next week, but the utility has a program to allow people to catch up on bills that have added up since the shutdown.
For power bills that end up never getting paid, Georgia Power will also be allowed to add that balance into rates to collect from customers.
The added costs from bad debt and the coronavirus expenses won’t have an effect on power bills right away; they’ll be factored in the next time Georgia Power reviews its rates with the PSC in 2022.
A spokesman for Georgia Power said the company appreciates the commissioners’ decision on the coronavirus spending.
“These costs are necessary to protect our workers who maintain the reliability of electric service essential to our local communities and state through this pandemic,” John Kraft wrote. “Costs include personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, and cleaning services to safely protect personnel critical to maintaining 24/7 operations and service.”
Pridemore’s motion to allow the costs to be passed on to customers passed 3-2; Commissioners Lauren “Bubba” McDonald and Jason Shaw opposed it.