G.A. Public Service Commission fails to protect customers from utility shut-offs

The Georgia Public Service Commission voted to lift the moratorium on utility shut-offs in July, despite little evidence that the pandemic is easing or that financially strained families are in any better position to afford their service.

Over 30 groups filed a letter with Georgia utility regulators earlier this week, citing serious concerns about their decision to lift the moratorium on utility shut-offs during the ongoing pandemic.

The Georgia Public Service Commission voted in April to extend a moratorium by the state’s largest utility, Georgia Power, on service disconnections during the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis. Last month the Commission voted to lift the moratorium effective July 15th, despite little evidence that the pandemic is easing or that financially strained families are in any better position to afford their service.

For struggling customers, the Commission’s decision means again facing the threat of disconnection just as temperatures rise and higher bills become due.

Many Georgians are struggling as a result of this unprecedented health and economic crisis, particularly Black and people of color communities being impacted disproportionately. Their economic misery won’t end on July 15th. Unfortunately, the Commission seems more concerned about protecting Georgia Power’s balance sheet than in keeping these customers connected to an essential service during a public health emergency.”

—Chandra Farley, Just Energy Director for the Partnership for Southern Equity

The groups urged the Commission to consider debt forgiveness for income-qualified customers and to require a detailed plan for how the state’s largest utility, Georgia Power, intends to work with struggling customers to keep them connected to the grid.

The groups also asked the Commission to give customers more time to pay off their balances and to gather data on the scope of the affordability challenges facing many customers. They also suggested that burdened customers be steered toward to the Company’s energy efficiency offerings, which would reduce their energy bills.

“Many Georgians are struggling as a result of this unprecedented health and economic crisis, particularly Black and people of color communities being impacted disproportionately,” said Chandra Farley, Just Energy Director for the Partnership for Southern Equity. “Their economic misery won’t end on July 15th. Unfortunately, the Commission seems more concerned about protecting Georgia Power’s balance sheet than in keeping these customers connected to an essential service during a public health emergency.”

On Tuesday, the Commission voted unanimously to accept general recommendations from its Staff for handling customer debt that accrued during the moratorium. The Commission did not embrace any of the suggestions for added customer protections that were put forward by Commenters and other citizens.

Under the plan approved by the Commission, customers can delay repaying their accumulated balances until October 1st, and would then be required to make six equal payments on top of their bill for current service. Effective July 15th, customers who fall behind by 45 days or more on their bills or installment payments will face disconnection.

“While it’s good that customers can wait until October to begin paying down their balance, what about the customer who can’t afford next month’s bill any more than they could afford the bill for April or May?” said SELC senior attorney Kurt Ebersbach. “There is so far troublingly little discussion about how Georgia Power will work with these customers to keep them safe and connected until this crisis is over.”  

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