Consumer Utility Counsel Legislation: Q&A

What is a Consumer Utility Counsel?

Georgia is one of only four states with no Consumer Utility Counsel (CUC), a state agency designated to represent ratepayer interests in utility regulatory proceedings. This role is critical to protecting consumersat regulatory proceedings. Georgia is one of only four states without a CUC.

Business and utility interests invest heavily at rate proceedings to achieve their desired outcomes because lobbying works. Consumers have no lobbyists.

When was the last CUC created?

The most recent Consumer Utility Counsel was created in 2018 by South Carolina’s legislature after theyrealized that consumers had no representation at utility regulatory proceedings. This became clear from the Plant Summer debacle, their equivalent to Georgia’s Plant Vogtle, which had gone far over budget and driven five large rate increases before being canceled. Georgia’s CUC legislation is modeled after theirs.

What is Georgia’s CUC history?

Georgia’s CUC was a department that existed in the state Consumer Protection Division from the 1970s until it was defunded in 2008 by Governor Perdue as part of the great recession. The CUC was staffed with approximately four to six utility financing and

regulatory experts. Its defunding saved the state budget $400,000, and despite years of billion-dollar state tax surpluses, since then it has never been reinstated.

It is critical the department exists independently from the GA Public Service Commission so that it iseligible for membership in NASUCA, the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, as South Carolina’s CUC legislation does.

NASUCA and its member CUCs exist outside of the political process.

Why have a CUC – doesn’t the Public Service Commission protect ratepayers?

State public service commissions are supposed to balance the financial needs of the utility with state mandates to keep rates affordable. Business interests and utilities spend large amounts of money to influence the process. To provide balance, nearly all states have created a Consumer Utility Counsel toadvocate for ratepayer interests and prevent regulatory capture (when a regulatory agency becomes beholden to the very entity it is in charge of regulating).

What has been the impact to Georgians from having no CUC?

Plant Vogtle is the most expensive power plant ever built on earth and will produce the most expensive electricity in the world. Despite common knowledge that nuclear plant construction is always over budget, the GA PSC required no consumer protections for Plant Vogtle. It is difficult to imagine that happening had a CUC existed.

Nearly all of Plant Vogtle’s overruns are being added to GA Power rates. In the past four years GA Power rate increases totaled over $17 billion and GA Power average bills are going up a staggering $65/mo. No other state comes close to these increases.

In 2022 over 240,000 GA Power households were disconnected for inability to pay, over 20,000 every month. People of color make up nearly 70% of those disconnections in a state with a 32% minority population. The racial and environmental injustice is staggering. During public comments people beg for no rate increase and speak heartbreakingly about evictions or losing loved ones due to summer heat with noA/C.

How does a CUC advocate for ratepayers?

  1. Between 2007 and 2022 GA Power had zero sales growth, including peak demand, which is counter intuitive for a growing state. Flat electricity sales have been a hallmark across the S. and in Georgiafor decades due to energy efficiency, better building codes, and lighting advances. A CUC would provide knowledgeable and professional pushback to GA Power’s false projections about future sales growth.
  2. A CUC would advocate for ratepayer interests by pointing out that Georgia’s grid is only one-third utilized and that peak reserves are at 40%, or nearly three times federal recommendations for grid stability before Plant Vogtle gets added.
  3. In January 2024’s PSC hearings for GA Power’s latest request for more generation,

U.S. Army lawyer John McNutt asked GA Power why they want massive amounts of new fossil energy to meet the needs of hypothetical customers when military actual requests for clean energy were not (GA Power had no answer). A CUC would advocate for ratepayer interests as the U.S. army isadvocating for military interests.

  1. As a result of having no Consumer Utility Advocate for the past 15 years, Georgia’s utility bills are 5th highest in the nation. GA Power claims that rates are below the national average but rates are one small component of bills. A CUC would seek to keep all components of bills low by advocating forsmart grid developments that GA Power has no incentive to pursue.

GA Power pushes hard for new generation because the state of Georgia only compensates them for building new power plants, a legacy of 20th century priorities. Until the state adopts a new utility business model that aligns with modern goals of expanding clean energy and consumer engagement, a statefunded CUC is a critical voice in the regulatory process.

Further reading

AJC article about CUC loss:

https://www.ajc.com/news/local/consumers-lack-voice-psc-big-utility-cases-loom- advocates-say/oHklWe6eQXk4r8BtwGMwPJ/

Opinion piece about CUC from state president of AARP Georgia:

https://www.savannahnow.com/story/opinion/2008/09/19/robinson-georgia-consumers- lose-voice/13369375007/.