Backtracking in Georgia


The customer is always right.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 15 2002

If politicians knew what was good for them, they’d refuse to open the door when electric and gas industry lobbyists come knocking again. They’d stick with letting large end-users have access to competitive suppliers. They’re the ones who can buy in bulk and actually save more than a penny or two. But that’s where the buck would stop. Residential and small commercial customers don’t want choice. They want their local utility company to provide them with a reliable supply of energy at a fair price regulated by their local PUC. At least, that’s the opinion of some ornery gas customers in Georgia.

Given all the flack it’s caught of late, it may not be too far off before Georgia’s esteemed deregulation program is saddled with the label of “fiasco” and “debacle.” The timing is strikingly similar to California, where that state’s electric restructuring experiment crumbled in the summer of 2000, two years and change after the flawed plan switched on. In Georgia, Atlanta Gas Light’s final unbundling occurred in the summer of 1999. Two-and-
a-half years later, the state legislature is moving ahead with dismantling a portion of its prized 1997 gas deregulation law.

Take a look at some recent letters to the editor of the leading Georgia daily, Atlanta Journal Constitution, and you’ll get a good idea why Governor Roy Barnes and state lawmakers are backtracking on deregulation:

April 2, 2002—Dear Editor: Government in Georgia has to be the most corrupt and least concerned with the people of any in America. This begins with Rapacious Roy, the czar of all Georgia, and his minions in the legislature and extends through the smallest town councils with few exceptions.

The natural gas deregulation fiasco is an excellent example of their total disregard for the welfare of the people. Politicians and gas lobbyists have lied to the people, saying that prices would be lowered by deregulation, when anyone with any intelligence should realize that adding another layer of profit would increase the price. Of course, it also increases the amount kicked back to the politicians.

I now pay Atlanta Gas Light about what I paid it for my total bill before deregulation. I pay the gas provider more than twice what my bill was before. Thus, gas now costs me more than three times what it cost before the politicians, in all their wisdom, decided to “save me money.”

—Earl L.., Rockmart, Ga.


April 2, 2002—Dear Editor: H. Eugene Lockhart, CEO of the New Power Company, might want to check with the decision-makers in his company before stating that “New Power plans to honor all customer commitments. …”

One of the two reasons I switched to New Power was its assurance that it had a level billing or budget billing plan, and that my natural gas payments would be automatically debited from my checking account. It took months to make the switch. Now that it is made, I have been told that there is no provision for budget billing and that I cannot have my monthly bill debited automatically.

I am looking for another gas marketer.

—Sandra H. S., Atlanta, Ga.


March 27, 2002—Dear Editor: The Georgia Legislature is once again succumbing to big-money interests in its woefully inadequate legislation that supposedly corrects the natural gas deregulation fiasco perpetrated on Georgians since 1999.

Perhaps excuses could be made for the original legislation: overexuberance in believing free-market and deregulation hype, or perhaps just plain ignorance. Such claims cannot now be made, however. Deregulation has been an abject failure for most Georgians.

I ask every legislator in Georgia to look in the mirror and ask just whose interests they are serving. Are they serving the average residents of Georgia, or are they far more interested in serving the wealthy and the powerful? The answer is becoming more obvious every day. I also urge all Georgians to contact their legislators and tell them what they think of their vote concerning natural gas deregulation.

—Jim G., Grayson, Ga.