Georgia regulators oppose energy legislation
Three commissioners say cap-and-trade provisions will hurt state economy.
By Walter C. Jones
Story updated at 9:35 AM on Tuesday, Jul. 28, 2009
ATLANTA – Georgia consumers would see their electricity and natural gas bills rise and lose their edge in attracting jobs if Congress passes pending energy legislation, according to state utility regulators who spent their own money to lobby against the measure.
Three of five members of the Georgia Public Service Commission flew to Washington last week to express their opposition to the Waxman-Markey energy bill and its cap-and-trade provisions aimed at reducing carbon emissions. They argued Georgia would be hurt worse than other states.
Commission Chairman Doug Everett and Commissioners Lauren "Bubba" McDonald Jr. and Stan Wise met with members of the Georgia congressional delegation or their staff.
Everett said Monday the commission can’t make a complete analysis on the estimated impact because some details aren’t yet known about the bill’s impact. He said so far, natural gas prices would rise $500 million in the first year statewide and that individual, residential electric rates would increase $14-15 per month. Because most of Georgia’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, which are considered among the biggest sources of the carbon emissions the legislation seeks to reduce, the impact may be harsher here than in other states.
At the same time, provisions would grant allowances to utilities in other states that have higher prices. The two factors working together could erase Georgia’s 15 percent price difference, a figure that has been a competitive advantage when recruiting industries.
"It could hurt our jobs," Everett said.
The commission estimates industrial users of electricity – the large employers the state recruits – would be paying more than 50 percent higher rates by 2020.
But an environmental-advocacy group blasted the trio for advancing the position of the state’s largest electric utility, Georgia Power Co., the owner of multiple coal-fired generating plants.
"[This trip] is another reflection of how these three gentlemen are largely in the pocket of the power companies," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "We think that it is inappropriate for the regulators to become the lobbyists for the company they are supposed to oversee."
By the time the commissioners made the trip, the U.S. House had voted on the bill, but only four of the state’s 13-member delegation supported it, Democratic Reps. Hank Johnson, David Scott, John Lewis and Sanford Bishop. But Everett said if the Senate doesn’t kill it, he wants Georgia House members to know the commission’s position.
Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., who met with the commissioners, passed along an estimate by the Washington think tank, The Heritage Foundation, which concludes that his 10th District alone would lose 3,400 jobs the first year the bill takes effect.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., couldn’t make the meeting but opposes the bill, his press secretary, Sheridan Watson, said.
"The points made by the members of the PSC were well-researched, and there is no question the House cap-and-trade bill will cause energy costs to increase for the average Georgian," she said.