Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Utilities Keep Deals in Dark

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Utilities Keep Deals in Dark

Article excerpt

Selling electricity used to be pretty much a

one-size-fits-all business. But in these days of tailor-made

utility rates, some consumer advocates are worried it's the

little guy who'll get shorted.

The Public Service Commission recently approved two more

cut-rate contracts between Georgia Power Co. and large

Atlanta-area industries that use mass quantities of electricity.

They're the latest examples of a small but growing trend of

utilities using inducements to retain their most reliable

big-business customers.

By law, the terms of the discount contracts are protected

"trade secrets," so it isn't clear whether these inducements are

good deals or great ones. Only a handful of PSC auditors know

for sure.

Because so few have been implemented, these bulk-power

contracts haven't resulted in an accompanying rise in Joe

Homeowner's electric bills. That prospect, however, worries

consumer activists such as Rita Kilpatrick of the Atlanta-based

Campaign for a Prosperous Georgia, or CPG.

Georgia Power and its sister, Savannah Electric Power Co., need

approval from the five-member PSC before raising prices. But

customers are likely to lose that shield soon; both state and

federal lawmakers are talking about throwing open electric rates

to the marketplace, following the example of telephone and

natural gas deregulation.

Kilpatrick's group frets that impending competition will

encourage gas and electric companies to lock in as many of their

biggest customers to long-term, cut-rate deals as possible.

Then, when Brand X tries to get into the marketplace, its

salesmen will find all the best prospects taken.

That could be bad news for small businesses and residential

ratepayers, who could see costs shifted to them as utilities

throw money at huge manufacturers with the greatest bargaining

leverage.

Utilities justify the discount deals by saying that every

dollar they make off corporate customers is a dollar that

homeowners don't have to pay. …

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