As we face GaPow’s (guh-pow, hard ‘g’, like comic book Kapow, a whack upside the head) proposed 7% rate increase, final Public Service Commission hearings will be held in November (dates to be published), with a final decision delivered in mid-December. So I try to wrap my mind around what to even think, say, write about that vertically integrated, for-profit, monopoly utility provider that wields life-or-death power over our lives. The electricity they provide is at the very foundation of our lives, our civilization, our hopes and dreams. And they own the rights to do that until…when? 2064 I believe. 2064. This world will be a very, very different place by then. Will be even by 2034. Is now, but many of us are protected from experiencing the early biospheric degradation that leads to food and shelter insecurity, increased health problems, civil strife, chronic misery. So. GaPow. Well, please strap yourself in for a few minutes.
Back story- GaPow, along with many other large utility companies, is owned by The Southern Company (SC), HQ’d in Atlanta. The SC is the second largest utility company in the U.S. in terms of customer base, and is listed No.126 on the Fortune 500 list, with 500,000 shareholders. It has a “huge amount of debt due to its excessive capital expenses”, currently at $78.7 billion, which is “twenty-five times the annual earnings of the company and hence it is excessive.” It has a number of debts maturing at the end of the year that it cannot pay off, so is having to do significant refinancing as well as selling a couple of assets in Florida. (see seekingalpha.com )
SC’s largest out of a long list of institutional shareholders are wealth management/financial advisement companies, three of the largest being a Netherlands pension fund, an American financial management firm, and a traditional, long-standing global investment company (see nasdaq.com ). None of them are super heavy-hitters like Black Rock, but big enough, and it’s easy for even a social science/liberal arts guy to get the picture- SC is deeply beholden to a big financial sea of investors, who wield much more influence than 71-year-old retiree Wyllene Watson of Clayton County. She cannot imagine how she will budget in the minimum increase of $200 a year that GaPow’s rate hike will bring, as she struggles to save for her 8 year-old granddaughter’s future. ( see AJC article )
Are we seeing the same story? The parent company is struggling somewhat, maybe more than somewhat, with no wiggle room. This profitable subsidiary, GaPow, (exceeding the PSC-set profit band 3 of the last 5 years) is asking for a very significant rate increase, justifying it by citing storm damage repairs (bet those get higher), grid improvements, and environmental costs (coal ash pit cleanups). This, while GaPow already charges more per KW-hour than most utilities in the region. This, as it surely plans for more frequent rate increases to deal with the huge cost overruns of Vogtle Nuclear Plant. ( see AJC article ) This, as the Southern Company surely needs GaPow to maximize its profit margin for its own solvency. This, with no mention of funding needed for a rapid transition to clean energy, or for a realistic program for relieving the suffering of Atlanta neighborhoods with some of the worst household energy burdens in the country ( see Ga Tech Climate and Energy Policy Lab Data ), some of the lowest life-expectancies in the country…the list goes on ( see AJC article ).
But wait a minute! GaPow constantly travels to every corner of the state, with smiles, hugs, and handshakes, bestowing goodies and good fortune for the sake of all our futures! The Georgia Power Foundation lavished our beneficiaries with over $17 million last year alone! (Um, the rate hike will generate close to $1 Billion over the next three years) AND they are doubling solar capacity in the coming years (from, like 1.5% of their generating capacity to about 3%). OK, enough snarkiness. They sprinkle around enough money to feature genuine smiles of gratitude on their web site from hungry students and adults, classrooms in need of STEM education and literacy support, descendants of slaves wanting to maintain their ancestors graves, addicts in recovery, communities in recovery. The list goes on. And the many university research chairs GaPow funds, including a prestigious one that supports sustainability research at Tech. And the usually free promo that GaPow gets, not only in the local paper and biz journals, but as a corporate sponsor of local NPR stations, leaves most of our deluded residents believing that Uncle GaPow is a kind, thoughtful power that we can and must trust, that has our best interests at heart.
All this so I can lean onto this big game-of-life table, look around and ask How the heck do we take all that on, with the time and resources we have? Because it, and much more, must be taken on. If we can get more progressive government officials elected, can they then change the basic rules of the game before it’s too late? Can we turn those towering corporate headquarters of exploitation into human faces with hearts and souls who can be moved by the desperate truths we put before them? Will impassioned and charismatic leaders emerge and ignite a fire of rapid reform and transition across the land?
I have been reading an account, Red Round Globe Hot Burning, of how all this began, and the resistance to the imperial British empire during those early days of the industrial exploit-and-growth system; of nascent corporatocracy, featuring the enclosure and control of the commons, the destruction of community; the elimination of those who could not, would not cooperate. There were many who fought back, often at the cost of their lives. We do not risk death on the gallows, or otherwise, as many in the resistance did then- though many around the world do. As participants in that system at its most fully realized and toxic form, global consumer capitalism, our protests and marches have little effect on this course of institutionalized greed and destruction, other than keeping alive the reality of dissent, resistance, and the ideals of sustainable and caring ways of living on the Earth.
But we have suddenly, or so it seems, arrived at the moment when what are called Holding Actions in the Great Turning framework- marching, rallies, signs, letters- are not nearly enough. We still must do all that, but also so much more. Many of us are convinced that we must engage in nonviolent civil disobedience at a scale that cannot be ignored; that we must demand and not stop until basic institutional arrangements are changed so as to accommodate a rapid transition to a just and sustainable system, one that can inspire international collaboration. Can we do this? Please share your thoughts and feelings on this urgent topic as we all go forward.
Last year we thought we had a great opportunity to put a progressive public service commissioner on the board, but GaPow poured money into the campaign war chest of Tricia Pridemore,and she won. GaPow contributed to Brian Kemp’s corrupt campaign for governor. The Southern Company contributes to David Perdue’s campaign, and has spent $5,730,000 so far this year on lobbying efforts ( see opensecrets.org data ). GaPow also contributes to David Purdue’s campaigns, and gives almost four times as much to state level Republicans as Democrats. ( see opensecrets.org data )
GaPow and it’s parent The Southern Company wield political power that is basically the corruption of a system that should serve and be responsive solely to the residents and communities that depend on them for the electricity that allows life as we know it. And by refusing to acknowledge the timeline that science gives us to correct our greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid catastrophe, and do what must be done to align their resource plan with those requirements, they join those who put on a big smile in the media while dooming any chance of a safe, secure, and sustainable future.
Dear GaPow, are you aware of, and do you understand, the dangerous biospheric changes currently observed and further predicted for the coming years by science? And the contribution to those changes that your primary sources of energy production make? And the timeline we have for turning all of that around?
It’s either yes, and we all throw our shoulders together into the harness, making the needed changes, doing what must be done; or it’s no, and we all throw our shoulders together into the harness, making the needed changes, doing what must be done. Because…
All of a sudden, These Days, we are the concern, we are the hope despite the times.
We will be the happy throngs, we will rearrange the scales and take our joy wherever, wherever we go.
– paraphrased lyrics with deep gratitude to REM
“You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” Eleanore Roosevelt