This chapter first gives a brief overview of the different types of electric utilities in Georgia. Next, it identifies specific opportunities for communities to engage with the decision-making process and provides additional resources for citizens. Finally, it highlights examples of effective community-led actions that helped keep electric utilities accountable to the communities they serve.
Overview of Electric Utilities in Georgia
In Georgia, there are over 90 retail electric utilities, which distribute electricity to the public.
Utility decisions determine customer rates — the price you pay for electricity — and affect the makeup of energy sources as well as consumer access to cheaper or renewable energy sources.
Each electric utility in Georgia has a monopoly on serving those in a particular service area: it is the sole electric provider for that area.
Georgia’s utilities fall into three categories: investor-owned, membership cooperatives, and municipal-owned. Each type of utility has its own structure and decision-making process, and each offers different opportunities for public involvement.
There is one investor-owned electric utility in Georgia: Georgia Power Company. Georgia Power serves about half of Georgia residents and is regulated by the Georgia Public Service Commission(PSC). The PSC is composed of five members who are elected by Georgia voters for terms of six years. The PSC regulates Georgia Power and decides how Georgia Power will generate electricity and how much it can charge customers (“rate-payers”) for electricity.
While the PSC has exclusive power to determine electricity rates, the rates must be “just and reasonable.” The PSC’s orders may be challenged if they are “clearly unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious.”
Moreover, Georgia Power must obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the PSC if they seek to make significant changes. Such changes include commencing construction of power plants, entering into a long-term purchase of electric power, or making expenditures to reduce electricity demand through programs like energy efficiency. All of these changes directly impact bills that customers have to pay in the end.
Electric Membership Cooperatives (EMCs)
EMCs are local, nonprofit utilities that are owned by their customers, or member-owners.
Each EMC is governed by a board of directors elected by the EMC’s members. EMCs are nonprofit corporations and must comply with certain requirements to maintain federal tax-exempt status.
Unlike investor-owned utilities, EMCs operate at cost rather than for a profit. When the EMC has net earnings, those earnings are returned to member-owners as capital credits. Generally capital credits are allocated to member accounts and returned gradually over time (usually as a deduction on electric bills).
In Georgia, there are over 40 EMCs serving approximately 4.4 million residents and 73 percent of the state’s land area. The PSC has limited regulatory authority over the EMCs in Georgia; the primary decision-making authority rests with the board of directors.
Municipal Electric Utilities
These utilities are owned and operated by local governments and sell electricity to their residents. Municipal electric utilities are governed by the city council or county commission and are subject to limited regulation by the PSC.
In contrast to investor-owned utilities, municipal electric utilities operate on a non-profit basis. Georgia currently has 52 municipal utilities (51 cities and one county).
To see if your community is part of MEAG, visit MEAG’s website to view a list of participating Georgia communities.
The Cities of Dalton, Chickamauga, and Hampton have their own municipal electric utility systems.
Opportunities for Community Involvement
The Public Service Commission (PSC) regulates and sets rates for Georgia Power as well as investor-owned telecommunications and natural gas utilities in Georgia. The Commission does not set rates for municipal electric utilities or electric membership cooperatives (EMCs).
The PSC is made up of five commissioners who are elected statewide and serve staggered six-year terms. Commission members are required to live in one of five districts but are elected by voters statewide — not just residents within their districts. At the time of publication in August 2023, the election method for the PSC members is the subject of federal litigation pending in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Georgia voters challenged the statewide election method as a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it dilutes the voting power of Black voters.
The PSC provides opportunities for public participation.
All hearings, administrative sessions, committee meetings, and cases are available to the public. Any interested individual may sign up to provide oral or written statements in proceedings before the PSC.
Speaking at PSC meetings or public hearings during PSC proceedings can be a hugely valuable tool to influence PSC decision-making directly. It can also help garner broader attention to increase public pressure on the PSC.
There are two particularly significant PSC proceedings:
Long-term Resource Planning Proceedings
Every three years, Georgia Power is required to file an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the PSC. The IRP includes Georgia Power’s estimates about future electric demand for at least a 20-year period and details of the utility’s plan to meet future energy needs.
Specific elements of the IRP include:
Power generation facilities expected to be owned or operated by the utility as well as those expected to be removed from service
Alternative energy sources
Estimated impact of power plans (e.g. air quality impacts from coal plants, water pollution, nuclear waste)
Energy demand for a 20-year period and the basis for determining projected demand
Existing and planned programs for energy efficiency
Once Georgia Power submits its plan, the PSC reviews the plan, and interested parties have the opportunity to intervene in the proceeding.
Then, the PSC holds public hearings where any interested person can make comments directly to the PSC regarding the adequacy of the plan.
After the hearings, Georgia Power, the PSC staff, and intervening organizations all file recommendations to influence the PSC’s ultimate decision.
The outcome of the resource planning process directly affects customers through electric bills, consumer programs (such as energy efficiency), and power sources.
The resource planning process allows citizens to advocate for steps to lower energy bills, cleaner energy sources, and other programs, such as energy efficiency.
The PSC’s process for setting customer rates (the amount customers pay for electricity) is similar to the process for reviewing Georgia Power’s resource plans.
First, the utility files a petition for a rate increase with all its supporting data. The PSC reviews the petition and provides public notice of the proceedings. Interested parties have the opportunity to intervene in the proceedings.
The PSC holds a series of public hearings where the utility, intervenors, and PSC staff present their arguments and any interested individuals have the opportunity to speak. The parties may file recommendations. At the culmination of the process, the PSC issues a rate order.
Rates set by the PSC must permit the utility to earn a return comparable to that of enterprises involving similar risk, preserve the financial integrity of the utility, and permit the utility to attract capital on a reasonable basis.
In addition to providing comments or statements during PSC meetings, there are multiple other opportunities for individual and community advocates to participate in decisions.
Contact commissioners directly:
You can find contact information for individual commissioners on the PSC website.
Through the website, you can also submit complaints and inquiries through the PSC website portal.
Coordinate with other community members or with advocacy organizations:
Consumer and environmental advocacy organizations frequently intervene in PSC proceedings and may also provide helpful resources or information. Below are a few of these organizations:
As mentioned above, each EMC has its own board of directors elected by all members of the co-op. With community engagement, EMCs have the potential to be very responsive to member interests and community concerns.
But many EMCs in Georgia and across the country generally have very low voter turnout and have longstanding practices that fail to engage members and foster democratic control. For a majority of the 900 EMCs in the country, voter turnout for elections is usually 10% or less.
Ways to engage with EMCs:
Reach out to board members: Board members are elected by the community to serve community interests. Reaching out to voice concerns does not have to be limited to in-person or formal meetings. Check your co-op’s website for names and contact information for the board. You can also check your electric bill itself for phone numbers and information on how to connect with members of the board.
Attend member meetings: EMCs are ultimately controlled by their members through annual or special meetings where each member has one vote. Though these meetings have a mandatory quorum requirement, many Georgia cooperatives do not have robust requirements to ensure representative and inclusive governance.
For instance, the bylaws of the Sawnee EMC set a minimum quorum at 150 members compared to its approximately 185,000 members. That means that decisions, such as electing the board of directors, can be made with participation from less than 0.01% of the entire membership.
Vote: While some EMCs require in-person attendance at annual meetings to cast votes, some also allow mail voting.
Review bylaws and gather information on your EMC: Georgia Watch has compiled templates and checklists to evaluate EMCs in Georgia for compliance and transparency.
Change the bylaws: If your EMC has a longstanding practice that limits participation or raises other concerns, you can try to change the bylaws by contacting board members or speaking to other members at a meeting. For example, restrictions on postal voting may unnecessarily limit public participation in EMCs. If your EMC does not allow postal voting, you can advocate for changes to the bylaws to allow postal voting.
After member input, Grady EMC changed its bylaws in 2017 to allow mail-in voting.
Join the board: If you are interested in getting directly involved in your EMC, you can run for a board seat. Oftentimes incumbent board members run unopposed.
Review your EMC’s bylaws for election information and rules. EMCs are broken down into districts. If there is not a vacant seat in your district, each director’s seat should be open at annual meetings.Usually, you can secure a spot on the ballot by collecting enough signatures on a petition. The number of signatures necessary varies widely by cooperative.
Public power utilities are operated as a division of the local government.
Like other local government decisions, residents have a direct voice in utility decisions, including rates and energy sources. Rates and services are generally governed by the city council or county commission, and some cities may have an appointed or elected utility board.
Individuals and communities can participate in utility decisions by voting in local elections and by attending city council meetings and other public forums. You can also reach out directly to your elected officials to voice concerns about your electric utility.
By participating in local utility governance, you can influence actions such as customer rates, energy conservation and efficiency programs, energy sources, and low-income assistance programs. You can locate information about your municipal utility through your city or county website.
Communities Holding Electric Utilities Accountable
Cobb EMC Georgia Coal Plant Withdrawal
POWER4Georgians, LLC, a group of six Georgia EMCs, including Cobb EMC, planned to build a $2.1 billion coal plant (Plant Washington) which according to some estimates would have actually exceeded $3 billion in costs. The group had been promoting the project since 2008. Cobb EMC spent over $13 million dollars on the project before pulling out in 2012.
On behalf of and alongside of various community groups, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) successfully challenged the original air and water permits and opposed permit extensions.
Ultimately, Cobb EMC members held their utility accountable and ousted board members that continued to support an irresponsible project. The project is now officially dead after the other EMCs cancelled funding for the project.
Oxford, GA Solarize Campaign
The City of Oxford imposed a discriminatory monthly fee on rooftop solar customers. For a customer with an average-sized rooftop solar system, the fees added nearly $50 a month to the customer’s bill.
Several solar advocates, including the Solarize Georgia member organizations and community members raised concerns about the steep solar fees with the city council.
Ultimately, the Oxford City Council removed the monthly fee for residential customers with solar panels on their homes.
Georgia Power 2019 Resource Planning Proceedings: Increased Savings from Energy Saving Programs
During a 2019 long term resource planning proceeding, advocates pushed for and achieved expansions to Georgia Power’s energy savings programs, including programs targeted at reducing electric bills for income-qualified customers.
The PSC also approved, for the first time, a pilot program that will allow income-qualified customers to finance energy saving measures through an electric bill tariff. With this program, customers avoid expensive up-front costs and start saving money on electric bills right away.
Understanding the Electricity System in Georgia, Southface Institute 7 (May 2018), https://www.southface.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Georgia-Electricity-System-Primer-May-2018-Draft.pdf.
 O.C.G.A. § 46-2-23(a) (“The commission shall have exclusive power to determine what are just and reasonable rates and charges to be made by any person, firm, or corporation subject to its jurisdiction.”)
 See Ga. Retail Ass’n v. Ga. Pub. Serv. Comm’n, 300 S.E.2d 544, 546 (Ga. Ct. App. 1983).
 Municipal utilities and EMCs are both subject to limited regulation by PSC (resolving territorial disputes, records, financing). See O.C.G.A. §§ 46-3-12 and 46-3-152.
 The Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) which is a consortium of different public electrical system was formed in order “to function without profit in developing and promoting for the public good in this state, adequate, dependable, and economical sources and supplies of bulk electric power and energy[.]” See O.C.G.A. § 46-3-10.
Federal Power Comm. v. Home Natural Gas Co., 320 U.S. 591, 605 (1944).
 NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, Just Energy Policies and Practices Action Toolkit Module 5 23-24 https://naacp.org/resources/just-energy-reducing-pollution-creating-jobs-toolkit; Matt Grimley, Just How Democratic Are Rural Electric Cooperatives, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (Jan. 13, 2016), https://ilsr.org/just-how-democratic-are-rural-electric-cooperatives/.
 NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, Just Energy Policies and Practices Action Toolkit Module 5 23-24, https://naacp.org/resources/just-energy-reducing-pollution-creating-jobs-toolkit.