Paycheck-to-paycheck workers may be especially vulnerable to higher-than-standard power bills after a new rate program for Georgia Power takes effect Jan. 1, 2021, according to the consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch.
The concern involves households that stretch their budgets to cover their monthly bills and fall under the terms of the new program. The two major terms are the dwelling must have been built after New Years Day, and the power account must be new.
Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft noted that affected customers can opt out of the new program when a new account is created for a new-build dwelling. Otherwise, customers will be enrolled automatically in a program Georgia Power says is to reward off-peak usage of energy and thereby reduce demand on the electric grid.
In raising concerns for cash-strapped power customers, Georgia Watch Executive Director Liz Coyle noted that the terms of Georgia Power’s terms affect all the dwellings now being built as affordably priced units under terms of the subsidies offered by Invest Atlanta and the Fulton County Development Authority. Terms affect all residents who open a new account and don’t pay attention to notice that they must affirmatively opt out of the new rate program.
The concern includes those who may be challenged to use their washer and dryer at off-peak hours, and to make other lifestyle adjustments that are essential to curbing the cost of electricity as it’s priced in the new program, Coyle said.
These folks may work at times and on days that make it difficult to run their heavy appliances when most other folks are not using a lot of power.
“Even people who think they are savvy about using electricity could be in for a rude wake-up call – even if they take steps to be energy efficient,” Coyle said.
Georgia Power provided this comment in a statement issued Dec. 2 by the state utility regulator:
- “Although conscientious Smart Usage customers can save money, Georgia Power officials said Smart Usage customers who do not manage their usage can end up paying higher rates than standard-rate customers.”
The new program isn’t actually new. It has existed since 2014. What is new is that it becomes the default rate structure for some new customers as of New Years Day.
The new aspect is that the rate structure established for Smart Usage will be assigned automatically to customers who meet the following criteria and charged at the following rates:
- Move into a dwelling built after Jan. 1, 2021;
- Open a new account with Georgia Power;
- Higher rates for electricity at peak times of 2 p.m. to 7m., Monday through Friday, June through September, with the exception of holidays. Lower rates are charged for usage at off-peak periods.
There is an opt-out provision. Customers must opt out at the start of service. Otherwise, the Smart Usage rates will be applied for 12 months.
Kraft provided a full response to questions posed about the issues raised by Georgia Watch. Part of Kraft’s response observed:
- “It is important to note that while Smart Usage will be the rate initially assigned to those moving into newly-built residences, customers can still choose any available rate option that suits their needs and lifestyles.”
The Public Service Commission established the rate structure, known as a demand charge and marketed under the name Smart Usage. Smart Usage was established as a voluntary rate structure for residential customers. The purpose was to provide an incentive for customers to shift their consumption of electricity to off-peak hours – thereby easing the load on the power grid.
Kraft provided this comment about Smart Usage:
- “The Smart Usage option, like a number of other options introduced in recent years, better addresses how people use power and how the grid is operated today. It is designed to help consumers take advantage of more economical options in their energy usage. And since many new residences are equipped with smart appliances and technologies – customers have even more ways to use the Smart Usage option to reduce their energy bills.”
Kraft’s comment also observed:
- “The key factors in this rate – using major appliances (like clothes dryers, dish washers, and ovens) at different times, along with using less energy during the 2pm to 7pm time period on summer weekdays – are practices many customers have easily adopted. In addition, the Company has created various materials to help customers take advantage of the Smart Usage plan – including a dedicated webpage that provides helpful information, including a quick video explaining how the rate works.
- “Additionally, all new participants on the Smart Usage rate plan receive a personal communication to emphasize the adjustments that help lead to savings on energy bills. Thousands of Georgia Power customers have been on the Smart Usage rate for a number of years and have reported high levels of satisfaction with this rate plan.”