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Customers vent about WG&L rates

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- Customers angry about high utility bills -- some approaching $1,400 -- vented their concerns to board members during Thursday's monthly meeting.

Juanette Martin told commissioners that the utility's billing practices and rates were causing some people in the community to face extreme bills while trying merely to cope with nearly a month of sizzling temperatures.

Click play on the video below to see Martin's comments

Martin said she is concerned that today -- when temperatures are supposed to begin a slight cooling trend -- WG&L will cut off customers who are behind on their bills but who have been allowed to continue using their electricity because the state bars utilities from cutting service when temperatures are too high.

"The public appreciates that; not cutting people off; but in the same breath, if you're accumulating these bills and you're (WG&L) letting them roll over, people are getting $700, $800 bills ... $1,400 I've heard.

How are these people getting relief?" Martin said.

Albany Mayor Willie Adams, who also serves as WG&L chairman, said he sympathized with their concerns but that the utility has to be run as a business if they expect to keep the doors open, and that means collecting for services rendered.

"I certainly sympathize, empathize with you, but we have to run this as a business," Adams said. "We can't go broke. But I'm sure that when the heat spell is over, that some consideration will be given to spread the bills out over time."

General Manager Lemuel Edwards said that 1,741 people were scheduled to have their service cut off in August. But because the heat index was consistently above the 100 degree mark, they couldn't.

"That's a lot of meters that just roll and roll and roll," Edwards said. "At the end of the month, that can mean a big bill ... we typically tell people to set their thermostats to 80 (degrees), but when its 110 degrees outside, even at 80 (degrees) the air will continue to run."

Edwards said that WG&L does offer a service called "levelized billing," which evens out payments over the course of a year, but to qualify, customers have to live in the same location for 12 months -- a feat that much of Albany's transient population has a hard time conquering.

As far as the rates go, Edwards defended WG&L -- who paid more than $5 million in July for electricity -- saying that, on average, they were still 15 to 20 percent lower than Georgia Power.

Still, that did little for some of the people who showed up in WG&L's board room Thursday morning who are struggling with keeping up with their power bills. For them, their concerns and emotions ran over.

"They're full of s***," one woman said as she left the meeting Thursday morning.

According to Georgia Public Service Commission, which monitors both municipal and private utility providers who operate within the state, WG&L's summer 2010 residential rates were the seventh lowest in the state at 9.04 cents per kilowatt hour for 500 kwh used or $45.20.

That number is well below the state average of 11.15 cents per kwh or $56.99. For comparison, Georgia Power charges 11.22 cents per kwh or $56.14 for the same usage.

The rate changes as consumption increases, according to the PSC website. This means that if a person used 1,000 kwh of electricity, WG&L would charge them 8.84 cents per kwh; 8.97 cents per kwh for 1,500 kwh used; and 9.04 per kwh for 2,000 kwh.

Comparing rates for other south Georgia utilities at the 500 kwh consumption level shows that Pataula EMC is the next cheapest after WG&L with the 10th cheapest rate with 9.40 cents per kwh; City of Doerun is 14th at 10.0 cents per kwh; and City of Sylvester at 20th at 10.3 cents per kwh. Mitchell EMC has the fourth highest rate in the state at 13.75 cents per kwh.

To see PSC's summer 2010 residential rate survey, go to:

http://www.psc.state.ga.us/electric/surveys/2010/allprosum10/allprosum10-500.asp