The Associated Press March 30, 2012, 10:04AM ET

Judge allows lawsuit against Ga. Power to proceed

A judge granted a legal victory Thursday to a political odd couple that united to challenge a controversial financing law they claim has cost Georgia Power ratepayers millions of dollars.

The judge's ruling allowed a lawsuit filed by former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes and Republican ex-House Speaker Glenn Richardson against Georgia Power, a unit of Southern Co., to go forward.

Richardson helped ensure the passage of a 2009 law that let the utility giant charge its customers in advance for the costs of financing two new nuclear power plants. But he and Barnes said in the lawsuit that the measure was never designed to allow Georgia Power to collect sales tax and municipal franchising fees on the surcharge.

That means the utility is adding as much as 13 percent to the surcharge, they said, which costs most ratepayers a few additional dollars each month. It adds up fast to as much as $100 million since 2008, they said.

Georgia Power's attorneys urged the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the taxes were properly collected and that refusing to do so could expose the utility to sanctions and possible criminal penalties.

But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville's said he was "unpersuaded" by the utility's argument that the lawsuit should be dismissed. He said he would schedule another hearing to discuss the case as it moves forward.

Georgia Power spokesman Mark Williams said the firm is deciding whether to appeal Glanville's ruling.

"We intend to vigorously defend the case," he said. "The state requires Georgia Power to collect and send sales taxes to the State Department of Revenue, and the company fully complies with the law."

Barnes has never strayed far from the spotlight since losing a re-election bid to Republican Sonny Perdue in 2002 and again to Gov. Nathan Deal in 2010. For Richardson, the case is a comeback of sorts after his sudden departure from office. He resigned in December 2009 after a suicide attempt and a contentious divorce and has largely been out of the public's view since.

"This is one step in a long flight of steps, but it's an important step," Richardson said of Thursday's ruling. "You can't charge sales tax on the nuclear fees. It's really not complicated but Georgia Power chooses to make it complicated."

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