City electric bills to increase

COVINGTON - City of Covington electric customers can expect to see an increase in their bills soon.

Due to the "phenomenal rise in fuel costs" associated with petroleum and natural gas used to fire turbines in which electricity is generated, the city has increased the PCA, or power cost adjustment.

Electric rates are established based on the assumed cost of power purchased by the city from the Municipal Electric Association of Georgia and the Southeastern Power Administration. The PCA is a charge used to collect variations in the wholesale power cost that exceeds the amount allocated in established rates.

The PCA was previously at 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour, but projections from MEAG showed the rate should be increased to 4.1 cents per kilowatt hour, City Manager Steve Horton said.

However, to lessen some of the impact on customers, the city has set the PCA at 3.7 cents per kilowatt hour. It will make up the difference by applying revenues received from selling power from natural gas powered turbines to off-system customers to the MEAG bill.

Customers can expect to see the increase in their July or August bills, depending on their billing cycle, Horton said.

"We still get a fair amount of product, about 25 percent, on the market, so it's more volatile," he said of the shifting rates.

In February, the City Council agreed to levelize the PCA to avoid frequent spikes in electric bills. The result would be that the PCA would remain at a consistent rate throughout the year, accomplished by forecasting the power cost to Covington as included in MEAG's budget, averaging the PCA and applying that average each month.

"We are still trying to accomplish a levelized approach in spite of the continued instability in the PCA. However, each attempt has been short-lived due the continual rise in petroleum and natural gas prices. We are, therefore, having to look at the PCA monthly and make adjustments when necessary," Horton said.

The city is continuing to search for additional, less expensive sources of power, he said.

"The bad part is that everything is going up and it's proportionately tied to fuel costs. We are very cognizant and sympathetic to what's going on with our customers. There's no silver bullet right now that we can put our hands on to make a considerable impact," he said.

City officials are hoping a new program they agreed to implement Monday night will have some impact for customers who can't pay their bills.

Customers who can afford to spare some change will be given the opportunity to help those who are less fortunate by rounding up their utility bills to the next dollar.

The city is partnering with Partnership for Community Action Inc. out of Decatur to provide the round-up program.

"We're trying our very best to try and give back to our community in every legal way we can," said Mayor Kim Carter, noting the city is legally prohibited from donating funds from government coffers to charitable causes.

The city is sending out letters to customers notifying them of the round-up program; those who want to participate must sign a form and mail it back to the city.

"No money will be taken from any customer who does not opt in," Horton said.

All money will be distributed locally, with Partnership for Community Action retaining 10 percent of collections for operating costs. Horton said he expects the program to be in place by September.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.