Thursday, October 28, 2010

Atlanta Gas Light's Residential Rates to Increase 90 Cents per Month

/PRNewswire/-- Following a 4-1 vote October 27 by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC), residential customers of Atlanta Gas Light will receive a 90-cent monthly net increase in service rates effective November 1. The adjustment, the first base rate increase for the company since 1993, equates to an overall increase of one percent for the typical residential customer's annual natural gas bill. The adjustment will be reflected in the monthly Atlanta Gas Light charges as billed by certificated gas marketers to customers.

After weighing evidence and hearing testimony during the last six months, the PSC concluded that a $26.7 million increase in the company's revenue requirement was warranted to provide the company with sufficient revenue to meet reasonable expenses, pay interest on debt, continue to attract capital at favorable rates and provide a reasonable return to shareholders in order to continue to attract investment. The company originally sought $54.2 million in additional revenues in its case filed May 3, 2010, before adjusting the amount in October to $48.2 million to reflect more current economic conditions.

The company expects a final written order to be issued within the next 30 days, at which time parties to the case have 10 days to file for reconsideration of the decision with the PSC.

"Although we made a strong case for a larger revenue requirement to fund our service obligations, we recognize the economic climate weighed heavily on the commission as it worked to find the right balance for the company, our customers and shareholders," said Suzanne Sitherwood, president, Atlanta Gas Light.

"It is never an easy decision to increase rates, particularly in a difficult economy," Sitherwood said. "However, the action by the PSC provides necessary revenues to sustain our operations and meet the growing demands for compliance and safety work, while improving our customer service levels."

The PSC also approved a rate-design change that closes the cost-of-service gap between residential and commercial customers. Small commercial customers with a Designated Design Day Capacity (DDDC) factor of less than 7.0, which includes approximately 82% of all commercial customers, will see no rate increase or a small decrease. Large commercial customers will receive a monthly increase in their total bill similar in percentage to that of residential customers. In addition, monthly rates charged to agricultural customers will be reduced by $73 on average, particularly to bring poultry growers' rates more in line with general commercial accounts and help them better manage peak costs during winter.

The company also was ordered to investigate whether additional senior citizens might be eligible to participate in Atlanta Gas Light's senior discount program. Individuals age 65 or older with annual income of $14,355 or less are eligible to receive a monthly discount of up to $14.00.

Other details and provisions of the decision include:

* Acceptance of a revenue requirement of approximately $450 million, which equates to an unadjusted increase of approximately $1.46 per residential customer.


* Two changes in the company's surcharges totaling approximately $12.1 million annually, which will offset the impact of the rate increase by approximately 56 cents per month on the customer's monthly bill. This includes a temporary shift of $6.5 million from the Universal Service Fund to fund the Senior Citizen Discount Program, and acceptance of an October filing by Atlanta Gas Light to reduce the environmental cost recovery surcharge rate for an annual reduction of $5.6 million.


* Established an authorized return on equity of 10.75 percent, which is within the estimated range of 10.5 percent to 11.25 percent recommended by the company.


* Approval of a capital structure for the company of 51 percent common equity, 44.63 percent long-term debt and 4.37 percent short-term debt.


* A return to a traditional method of calculating depreciation expense using net value methodology with a salvage rate of negative 30 percent.


* Approval of an in-home appliance repair program that permits Atlanta Gas Light service technicians to perform minor repairs of low cost and short duration when responding to the home for other purposes, while providing referrals to Natural Gas Advantage Dealer companies for more substantial repairs or appliance replacements.


* Funding of the new Customer Care Center in Riverdale, Georgia, to better handle customer issues and support 74 new jobs in Georgia.


* Increase the number of service technicians on staff to make them available to reduce the average time to establish service and fulfill other customer orders from five business days to three.


* Adoption of a new acquisition synergy sharing policy that is expected to hold down future operating expenses by incentivizing the company to make prudent utility acquisitions that capture savings for customers while insulating them from risk of increased costs from such transactions. Customers will share equally in any savings from future transactions after the company demonstrates savings through a future proceeding.


* Allocation of $4.4 million in annual revenue to the company to recognize equitable treatment of current and ongoing savings produced from the acquisition by AGL Resources of NUI Corporation. Evidence in the case demonstrated that since 2005 approximately $150 million in savings were generated from previous acquisitions which were applied to reduce Atlanta Gas Light's operating expenses.


* Improvements to technology systems intended to provide quicker response times and greater capacity to perform additional marketer and customer services.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

J.D. Power and Associates Reports: Future Global Market Demand for Hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicles May Be Over-Hyped; Wild Card is China

/PRNewswire/ -- Combined global sales of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are expected to total 5.2 million units in 2020, or just 7.3 percent of the 70.9 million passenger vehicles forecasted to be sold worldwide by that year, according to a report issued by J.D. Power and Associates. For comparison, global HEV and BEV sales in 2010 are forecasted to total 954,500 vehicles, or 2.2 percent of the 44.7 million vehicles projected to be sold through the end of 2010.

The report, titled "Drive Green 2020: More Hope than Reality" considers various factors affecting the future potential for "green" vehicles in the world's largest automotive markets. These factors include market trends, regulatory environment, consumer sentiment and technology development in these markets.

According to the report, it will be difficult to convince large numbers of consumers to switch from conventionally powered passenger vehicles to HEVs and BEVs. A consumer migration to alternative powertrain technologies will most likely require either one of the following scenarios, or some combination of these scenarios:

* A significant increase in the global price of petroleum-based fuels by 2020
* A substantial breakthrough in green technologies that would reduce costs and improve consumer confidence
* A coordinated government policy to encourage consumers to purchase these vehicles.


Based on currently available information, none of these scenarios are believed to be likely during the next 10 years.

"While considerable interest exists among governments, media and environmentalists in promoting HEVs and BEVs, consumers will ultimately decide whether these vehicles are commercially successful or not," said John Humphrey, senior vice president of automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates. "Based on our research of consumer attitudes toward these technologies—and barring significant changes to public policy, including tax incentives and higher fuel economy standards—we don't anticipate a mass migration to green vehicles in the coming decade."

Consumer Sentiment about HEVs and BEVs

Consumers have a variety of concerns about HEVs and BEVs, including:

* Dislike of their look/design
* Worries about the reliability of new technologies
* Dissatisfaction with overall power and performance
* Anxiety about driving range
* Concern about the time needed to recharge battery packs


More importantly, however, are the personal financial implications of deciding to purchase an alternative-energy vehicle. While many consumers around the world say they are interested in HEVs and BEVs for the expected fuel savings and positive environmental impact they provide, their interest declines significantly when they learn of the price premium that comes with purchasing these vehicles.

"Many consumers say they are concerned about the environment, but when they find out how much a green vehicle is going to cost, their altruistic inclination declines considerably," said Humphrey. "For example, among consumers in the U.S. who initially say they are interested in buying a hybrid vehicle, the number declines by some 50 percent when they learn of the extra $5,000, on average, it would cost to acquire the vehicle."

The overall cost of ownership of HEVs and BEVs over the life of the vehicle is also not entirely clear to consumers, and there is still much confusion about how long one would have to own such a vehicle to realize cost savings on fuel, compared with a vehicle powered by a conventional internal combustion engine (ICE). The resale value of HEVs and BEVs, as well as the cost of replacing depleted battery packs, are other financial considerations that weigh heavily on consumers' minds.

Finally, it is clear from research in the world's largest automotive markets that buyers of hybrid and electric vehicles occupy a unique demographic niche. Buyers of HEVs and BEVs are generally older, more highly educated (possessing a postgraduate degree), high-income individuals who have a deep interest in technology, or who like to be among the early adopters of any new technology product. As a result, it is not clear that HEVs and BEVs will appeal to the general population.

Government Regulations

While the governments of the world's largest automotive-producing nations have schedules in place for improving fuel economy and reducing exhaust emissions, there is little consensus about the timing or manner in which these objectives are to be achieved. Some governments are promoting HEVs, others are focusing on BEVs, and still others are considering additional options.

According to Humphrey, the lack of consistency in regulations across markets is causing global automakers to hedge their options by seeking alliances and technology-sharing agreements. The heavy fixed costs associated with developing multiple powertrain options simultaneously are prohibitively expensive. When combined with the projected lower sales volumes of these products, collaboration between auto companies is almost a necessity to control costs and remain competitive.

One unpredictable aspect of the 2020 outlook is how markets would be affected if more stringent and consistent legislation is adopted that supports specific technologies. In particular, China has the ability to move quickly, invest heavily in the development of one specific propulsion technology, and mandate fuel economy or emissions standards that could favor a particular technology or require a minimum sales penetration level for vehicles with a designated technology. Given the size and growth rate of the Chinese auto market, such a coordinated regulatory environment might allow Chinese companies to achieve economies of scale and drive down the cost of alternative-energy vehicles.

Technology

While HEVs and BEVs offer an interesting alternative for the future, it must be acknowledged that many of the shortcomings that defined battery-based vehicles 100 years ago are still prevalent today. These include limited driving range, extended recharging times, limited support infrastructure, and the high cost of battery packs.

Moreover, while reducing exhaust emissions was not an important factor in the development of battery-based vehicles 100 years ago, it has been a significant driver behind the development of BEVs today. For many governments, the primary goal of transitioning to alternative powertrains is to reduce exhaust emissions, and it is not clear how much of this can be achieved.

"We don't want to replace tailpipe emissions with the emissions of coal- and oil-fired power plants that produce the electricity used by BEVs," said Humphrey. "We have to look at the carbon footprint of the entire energy supply chain."

Breakdown of Global HEV and BEV Sales by 2020

Of the 5.2 million HEVs and BEVs forecasted to be sold worldwide in 2020, some 3.9 million units are expected to be HEVs, according to the J.D. Power and Associates global forecast numbers for the third-quarter of 2010. The leading markets for HEVs are the United States (1.7 million units), Europe (977,000 units), and Japan (875,000 units). China is expected to sell fewer than 100,000 HEVs in 2020.

Of the 1.3 million BEVs projected to be sold worldwide in 2020, sales in Europe will account for 742,000 units; sales in China will account for 332,000 units; and the United States and Japan should each account for sales of approximately 100,000 BEVs in 2020.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kroger and Shell Team Up in the Greater Metro Atlanta and Northern Georgia Area to Help Customers Save at the Pump

/PRNewswire/ -- The Kroger Co., the nation's largest traditional supermarket retailer, is excited to team up with Shell, the number 1 selling gasoline brand in the U.S., to give metro Atlanta and Northern Georgia area customers the chance to earn fuel savings at the pump. The exclusive alliance provides Kroger shoppers the opportunity to save on fuels by using their Kroger Plus Card.

Beginning October 25, every time Kroger customers in the area make a purchase with their Kroger Plus Card, they not only save money on their grocery bill but also earn Fuel Points that can be used at the pump. Kroger customers have the opportunity to redeem 100 points per visit to save 10 cents per gallon instantly at Kroger Fuel Centers and now at participating Shell stations. This offer is valid up to 35 gallons of fuel per purchase.

"Adding value and savings is an important part of Kroger's commitment to providing our customers the best possible shopping experience," said Glynn Jenkins, director of communications and public relations for Kroger's Atlanta Division. "In today's economic times, it's more important than ever for companies like Kroger and Shell to join forces to offer our customers optimum savings and rewards."

"We are excited to be teaming up with Kroger to help fill customers' gas tanks for less," said Dan Little, North America fuels marketing manager for Shell Oil Products U.S. "With Kroger stores throughout the metro Atlanta area and Northern Georgia, and conveniently located participating Shell stations nearby, it's never been easier for customers to save on high-quality Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines."

Customers earn one Fuel Point for every dollar spent on most items when they use their Kroger Plus Card during shopping trips at participating Kroger stores. To help shoppers build up their savings quickly, additional Fuel Points can be earned by purchasing prescriptions or gift cards at Kroger. Customers earn 50 Fuel Points for each filled eligible prescription and two Fuel Points for every dollar spent on third-party gift cards from Kroger's in-store Gift Card Malls. Shoppers can visit any Kroger store for more details. Fuel Points will be automatically added to Kroger Plus Card accounts and will be reflected on customers' grocery receipt after every purchase. Customers also have the option of looking online on their "My Kroger" page at www.kroger.com to check how many Fuel Points they have earned. Fuel Points must be used during the month they are earned or by the end of the following calendar month.

Customers may redeem their Fuel Points at Kroger Fuel Centers or participating Shell stations by using their Kroger Plus Card at the pump, manually entering their card number or entering their alternate ID, which will initiate the fuel savings. Customers with questions about the fuels rewards program can call Kroger Customer Service at 1-800-576-4377, or they can contact Shell Customer Service at 1-888-GO-SHELL for assistance identifying participating Shell locations.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Prevent vampires from wasting energy in your home

Just like a vampire can steal energy from an unsuspecting victim, an idle home appliance can bleed power from a home and unnecessarily add to its electric bill.

Did you unplug the coffeemaker before you left home this morning? If not, it is still pulling a small amount of electricity. This is called “phantom” or “vampire” energy. Most small appliances do not use a lot of electricity while still plugged in or in standby mode, but there use is being recorded. You will pay for those watts of electricity.

A phone charger, for example, plugged in with no cell phone attached uses phantom energy. Computers, printers, hard drives and monitors all still pull electricity while plugged in and not being used.

The best way to stop this phantom energy waste is to use a power strip or surge protector. By plugging electronics into these, you can turn off the power to the strip or protector and eliminate the flow of electricity.

To reduce the electricity used by a computer, turn it and its monitor off if you’re not going to use it for more than two hours. If you’re not going to use the monitor for more than 20 minutes, turn it off.

There is a surge of electricity when your computer is initially turned on, but overall it’s much less than the electricity used when the computer is in standby mode. Another misconception is that screen savers are energy savers. Many screen savers actually use more energy than if the computer was on without a screen saver in place.

To save energy, purchase Energy Star® computers and other appliances. These appliances and electronics carry the Energy Star logo.

As with all energy-saving tips, apply the ideas that make sense for your household. If you have to reprogram television or cable remotes every time you unplug the television, DVD player or cable box, this may result in too much time or too much of an inconvenience for you.

Working together, families can do simple things like turn off lights when they leave a room or unplug small appliances that are not being used. Replacing light bulbs with compact florescent bulbs can save energy, too. CFL bulbs cost a little more than traditional bulbs, but they last five to seven years.

For more energy-savings tips, contact your local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1, or your local power provider.

By Jackie Dallas

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Save Money and Energy; Take the ENERGY STAR® Pledge

/PRNewswire/ -- Georgia Power is encouraging its customers to help the environment by supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) "Change the World, Start with ENERGY STAR" campaign. A key portion of the yearlong campaign focuses on lighting, which kicked off on "Change a Light" day, Oct. 6.

The campaign asks consumers to take the pledge to change at least one standard incandescent light bulb to an ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), switch to ENERGY STAR qualified appliances and products, use a programmable thermostat, ensure their home is well-insulated and make other energy-efficient lifestyle changes.

"We want our customers to understand that the smallest things can add up to a real difference. A small step like pledging to change at least one incandescent bulb in a home or business to a CFL can save money, energy and help the environment," said Angela Strickland, Georgia Power's director of Energy Efficiency. "Energy efficiency is a priority for Georgia Power and we see tremendous value in equipping our customers with information on ENERGY STAR programs and products that can benefit them."

Changing a standard light bulb to an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL can save more than $30 over the life of the bulb. ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs use 75 percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer. Choose ENERGY STAR qualified appliances and products for your home and save. ENERGY STAR appliances not only use 10 percent to 50 percent less energy, they also use less water.

Georgia Power will promote the campaign to its customers beginning Oct. 4, in conjunction with Customer Service Appreciation Week, a national event which recognizes the importance of customer service and honors the frontline workforce that serves customers.

Customers are invited to take the pledge online at www.georgiapower.com or look for the pledge card in their October bills.

"Georgia Power has been an ENERGY STAR partner since 2004. We are proud to have been recognized as EPA's national pledge leader for the past two years and ranked in the top-five national pledge leaders since 2006," Strickland said. "We hope to continue our forward momentum during this year's campaign, which concludes April 2011. We encourage all of our customers to take the pledge and change a light!"

In 2009, Georgia Power distributed more than 120,000 CFLs, and since 2006 more than 450,000 CFLs have been given in exchange for a pledge.

If household customers are looking for a place to recycle used CFLs, there's no need to worry. Georgia Power has partnered with The Home Depot to offer recycling for compact fluorescent light bulbs at the retailer's stores in Georgia.

Georgia Power sponsors in-store bins at all 88 The Home Depot locations in the state, which creates the state's most widespread recycling program for CFLs and brings relatively convenient recycling within reach of most households.

Over 23,000 pounds of CFLs have been recycled through Georgia Power's partnership with The Home Depot. For more information about the CFL recycling program, visit www.homedepot.com/ecooptions.

Georgia Power encourages its customers to practice energy efficiency year-round. For additional money-saving energy efficiency tips, visit www.georgiapower.com. For additional information about ENERGY STAR, visit www.energystar.gov.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Georgia Power to Expand Solar Energy Capacity

/PRNewswire/ -- Georgia Power today (October 5) received approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) for a new tariff that will nearly double the amount of solar energy the company purchases to supply its Green Energy Program.

The Solar Purchase Tariff will allow Georgia Power to purchase an additional 1.5 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity from customers at 17 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for generating facilities designed to produce less than 100 kilowatts. Customers who sell solar under the new tariff must agree to share all cost and operational information with Georgia Power so that the company can gain experience in solar electricity generation.

The company will also issue a request for proposals (RFP) for an additional 1 MW of solar capacity with no project size restriction. Georgia Power will consider solar proposals in this RFP with a price of 15 cents per kWh or less.

Georgia Power will use this solar energy to supply the Premium Green Energy product. Customers can purchase 100-kilowatt-hour blocks of Premium Green Energy with a 50 percent solar component for $5 per block or Standard Green Energy, generated from biomass sources, for $3.50 per block.

Since Georgia Power began the Green Energy program in October 2006, nearly 4,200 customers have committed to purchase approximately 3.8 million kilowatt-hours of green energy, or enough electricity to power approximately 3,800 homes using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month.

"Since we began offering customers a 50 percent solar option, we've added almost 1,000 new blocks of the Premium Green Energy product to the program," said Angela Strickland, director of Energy Efficiency. "By increasing our solar capacity in the program to 5.4 MW, we hope to keep pace with the significant growth of solar purchases by our customers both now and in the future."

Georgia Power will continue to offer its Renewable-Non Renewable Resources (RNR) tariff to customers who use their solar facilities to either offset their electricity bill or who sell the power back to Georgia Power at the company's solar avoided cost.

Georgia Power's Solar Purchase Tariff and revised RNR tariff will go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.

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