Georgia House Takes Up Bill to Revive Consumers’ Utility Counsel

Dave Williams

Wednesday, March 20th, 2024

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Members of a state House committee expressed concerns Tuesday about legislation that would revive the Georgia Consumers’ Utility Counsel (CUC) to represent Georgians before the state Public Service Commission (PSC).

The CUC operated in Georgia from the 1970s until 2008, when it became a victim of budget cuts brought on by the Great Recession, Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, chief sponsor of Senate Bill 457, told members of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.

“We’ve got some complex issues out there,” said Hufstetler, R-Rome. “We want to make sure consumers have an advocate for them.”

But Tom Bond, director of utilities for the PSC, said commissioners don’t believe reviving the CUC is necessary because members of the commission are elected by Georgia voters.

“There is no intermediary between them and their constituents,” he said.

Bond said the commission also has a Public Interest Advocacy Staff to represent the interests of consumers as well as a hearings process that allows multiple intervenors to argue the public’s case.

However, Bryan Jacob, solar program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which frequently serves as an intervenor in matters before the PSC, said the interests of intervenors don’t necessarily align with those of the public.

“We are not a consumer advocate,” he said. “We are a clean energy advocate. … Residential and small business customers deserve to have an advocate that exclusively represents their interests.”

Committee members raised concerns about the costs of reviving the CUC and whether its duties would duplicate those of the state attorney general’s office, which has a Consumer Protection Division.

Hufstetler said the attorney general’s office handles all types of consumer complaints.

“Utilities are a tiny fraction of what they work on,” he said.

Other committee members said the presence of a CUC might increase the amount of costly litigation the state is forced to handle.

But Hufstetler said records from the previous iteration of the CUC did not show a rise in lawsuits during its tenure.

The Senate passed Hufstetler’s bill unanimously late last month, but it could face tougher sledding in the House. The committee did not vote on it Tuesday, and only four legislative days remain in this year’s General Assembly session.