ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia legislator are getting intense pressure
from Georgia Power lobbyists - more than usual. The powerful
utility also has lavished meals and sports tickets on certain
lawmakers in recent months.
At stake is legislation that would effectively boost electric
rates for thousands of Georgia Power customers beginning in 2011.
The bill allows Georgia Power to begin collecting interest costs
for its nuclear expansion at Plant Vogtle six years before the new
nuclear reactors are set to be completed.
Outside the Georgia Senate chamber recently, the hallway was
thick with lobbyists as lawmakers voted recently on legislation
allowing Georgia Power to charge ratepayers early for interest
charges in a multi-billion-dollar nuclear expansion.
Lobbyists are a mainstay under the gold dome. But Georgia
Power's full court press this year has raised eyebrows, even among
some legislative veterans.
In recent weeks, the powerful utility has hired a pricey fleet
of the Capitol's most sought-after lobbyists. The minimum price tag
for the hired help is $50,000, according to lobbying registration
Also, Georgia Power's chief executive officer, Michael Garrett,
registered with state ethics officials this month to officially
lobby on the bill.
Critics of the nuclear charges bill have blasted the measure as
a raw deal for consumers being asked to the foot the bill for the
reactors long before they'll see any benefit from them.
Supporters say it will slash some $300 million off the project's
estimated $14 billion total price tag, saving consumers money in
the long run. Either way electric bills will go up, they argue.
The bill passed the state Senate 38-16. It cleared a key
subcommittee in the House on Friday by voice vote.
A spokeswoman for Georgia Power said the utility was pushing the
bill hard because it's good for consumers. Christy Heiser says the
bill is really important to the state's energy future, adding: "We
take very seriously the need to do everything we can to diversify
our fuel mix."
As part of the lobbying, Georgia Power in January alone spent
$497 on a dinner for House Republican leadership, $996 on a lunch
for House Democrats and $565 for the executive committee of the
Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.
And the utility coughed up $520 worth of hockey tickets for
House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter. Burkhalter wrote an op-ed
piece in October calling on Georgia officials to cut the red tape
to build nuclear facilities.
Georgia Power lobbyists Steve Allen and Scott Draper were among
the most generous Georgia lobbyists in 2009. Together the pair
doled out more than $14,000 in meals, sports tickets and other
freebies to legislators, according to disclosure reports.
The utility already has friends in high places. Gov. Sonny
Perdue's chief of staff, Ed Holcombe, had a 39-year career at
Georgia Power where he worked as the company's chief lobbyist.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)