Power prices are always a popular topic, but the conversation has picked up in recent weeks, with Snapping Shoals EMC touting its low prices in the latest statewide survey and residents elsewhere questioning their rates.
The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) released a recent survey comparing winter power prices in January for all 94 electric providers in Georgia, and Snapping Shoals consistently ranked among the lowest, while Covington and Georgia Power were above average, Mansfield wasn’t far behind, and Oxford had among the higher prices in the state.
(Summer power prices are different, mainly because demand is generally higher in the summer, and the PSC has a separate survey for summer rates. Click on the link above this article to download an Excel spreadsheet comparing both summer and winter rates.)
The survey looks at four different electricity usage rates: 500 kilowatt-hours (kWh), 1,000 kWh, 1,500 kWh and 2,000 kWh. Though electricity use depends greatly on a number of factors — size of the home, number of people in the home, insulation, weather — Covington resident’s average monthly usage from July 2012 to June 2013 was 1,131 kWh; though summer peaks could reach 1,500 KWh per month.
For perspective, one kWh is the amount of electricity required to run one 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours.
Snapping Shoals ranked sixth, seventh, fourth and second in the four categories respectively.
"One constant at Snapping Shoals EMC has always been providing reliable service at the lowest cost possible to our members. This is something that Snapping Shoals EMC prides itself on," said spokeswoman Leigh-Anne Burgess. "We are able to provide high- quality electricity while keeping rates as low as possible with a diversified supply of energy resources as well as with a dedicated, committed workforce."
In December, when Covington was discussing its rates, a consultant working with the city said Snapping Shoals EMC has lower rates across the board as a result of the company’s larger investment in natural gas power plants. Natural gas is the among the cheapest sources of power at the moment, besting coal, because of the environmental regulations of coal, and nuclear power, because of the expense of building nuclear power plants.
Mansfield resident Tony Sandberg questioned the city’s price for power at Monday’s council meeting, and the city had an expert on hand to answer questions from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG), the nonprofit consortium of local governments that run their own power systems.
MEAG has ownership in various power plants and then sells the power to its member cities, including Covington, Mansfield and Oxford.
Sandberg asked about the contract Mansfield has with MEAG, and Paul Warfel, a senior regional manager at MEAG, said the original 50-year contract for all cities was signed in the 1970s and a major portion of the contract was renewed for another 50 years in 2004.
When MEAG gets its power from power plants, it passes on the cost to produce that power to its member cites, which each contract for a percentage of the total power production.
Mansfield also buys a small amount of hydroelectric power from the Southeastern Power Administration (SEPA), which is outside of MEAG.
In addition, if extra power is needed, cities can buy power, through MEAG, from the open market, where providers with excess power capacity can sell power. While this can be expensive at certain times — Covington used to get hammered several years ago on the market, a problem it corrected by buying more capacity — Warfel said the market has offered competitive rates the past few years.
Among all 94 providers, Mansfield ranked 60, 49, 43 and 39 in the four usage categories.
Councilman Matt Clark said Monday of the more than $500,000 in revenue the city got from electric sales in past years, only about $12,000-$14,000 was because of the city’s markups. The city has to pay for its own maintenance of the power lines and infrastructure it owns.
According to the city’s proposed budget for 2014, the city is projected to pay $570,778 for electricity and $4,000 for maintenance and equipment and will plan to set aside $50,000 to pay for future electric generation costs when units 3 and 4 at nuclear Plant Vogtle come online in a few years.
The actual power cost projections — not the maintenance and equipment — are increased 15 percent from the actual 2013 numbers, according to the budget.
The city projects to collects $639,342 in income, not including any late penalties. Including the $50,000 payment and maintenance costs, the city will have a surplus of $14,564.
Georgia Power ranked consistently across the four winter rates – 34, 30, 31, 30 – and spokesman Brian Green said the company had rates below the national average.
"We’ve made significant investments in our infrastructure over the past few years, including environmental controls, transmission and distribution, generation and smart grid technologies, required to maintain high levels of reliability and superior customer service," Green said.
He said the company also had different rate options flat and budget billing.
Covington ranked even better – 8, 26, 23, 23.
However, Oxford, was in the bottom half of all providers – 61, 73, 78, 79. Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry said costs of utilities aren’t the only factor cities have to worry about.
“The cost of utilities is but one factor in determining the revenue and expense stream for a city. Some communities chose to charge higher taxes in one area and lower rates in another area. If you are trying to attract large users of electricity you may want to follow that format. Oxford residents prefer low taxes, including a city homestead exemption, while maintaining a superior quality of service,” Roseberry said in an email.
He said the city was within about 10 percent of the state average across the board.