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Some power customers could see bills lowered
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Residents of the unincorporated area of Liberty County could join others across the state in seeing lower electric bills next year, according to    a ruling by the Fulton Super-ior Court.
The Public Service Commission decided last year to remove part of franchise fees collected by cities from Georgia Power for use of city rights-of-way from the rate base and to add them as a surcharge to municipal customers’ bills.
This would cost cities money, and the Georgia Municipal Association and a group of cities including Hinesville appealed.
Fulton Superior Court said this week it has decided to affirm the PSC in an order that will start affecting customers’ bills in January. GMA has not yet announced a decision on whether to appeal the ruling.
All Georgia Power customers, regardless of where they live, have been paying  for the 4 percent fees as part of their electric rates. But the PSC’s ruling phased out part of those charges so that by 2009, only 2 percent of the fees would come out of   everyone’s bill, while the  other 2 percent would be borne solely by customers residing in municipalities.
The disagreement centered on how Georgia Power pays franchise fees for using the right-of-way property owned by cities in order to run power lines. The cost of the fees is passed on to ratepayers. Georgia Power pays up to 4 percent of the amount it makes from selling electricity in cities in exchange for using the land.
Through agreements, cities received $110 million a year from the fees, which are not necessarily earmarked for maintaining the rights-of-way but instead go into their general budgets.
“It’s basically a revenue producer for the municipalities,” said Alex Sponseller, an assistant attorney general for the state representing the PSC in the case._He pointed out that county governments cannot collect franchise fees under state law, but county residents still contributed 45 percent of the funds through their monthly bills.
GMA, a dozen cities, including the consolidated governments of Athens-Clarke, Columbus-Muscogee and Augusta-Richmond, as well as industrial and charitable concerns appealed the PSC’s decision on the grounds that it was an arbitrary and capricious action that discriminated against municipal Georgia Power customers. _The PSC decision on appeal was rendered in a petition brought by Cobb County and Association of County Commissioners of Georgia in which they claimed that franchise fees only benefited municipal residents.
ACCG’s petition was called ironic when testimony at the PSC hearing indicated that they publicly advocate for the legal authority to demand compensation from Georgia Power and other utilities for the use of county rights-of-way.
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