Georgia Power shutters local offices


By James Saxton
Times Correspondent



A locked door and an “Office Permanently Closed” sign was not a possibility that DeJarnette Simmons had even considered.

The 20-year-old fry cook had left his newly leased manufactured home on foot more than an hour earlier with cash for a security deposit for an electric power account. But the Georgia Power office to which he walked was dark and locked tight.



The Georgia Power business office at 954 Eagles Landing Parkway in Stockbridge was closed earlier this month, along with about 100 more, as the electric utility realigns its customer service in response to more customers paying online. Photo by James Saxton



“I just can’t believe this, man,” Simmons said, slumping and looking defeated. “We can’t be having this. Now what am I going to do? I can’t walk to Jonesboro. I’ve got to pay them cash. I don’t have no checking account. The lady at the (trailer park) office said, ‘All you have to do is go to that Georgia Power office with your cash.’ Well, it ain’t open. What can I do now?”

Simmons was elated when he learned from a notice on the door that the Publix grocery store across the busy Eagles Landing Parkway was among those accepting cash payments for the electric utility, but crushed again when he learned that it’d cost him $1.50. “I don’t have it. Why they got to get more of my money that I ain’t got? It might as well be $150. I don’t have it. I guess I have no lights until I get my paycheck.”

Similar problems are doubtless hitting home with other customers, too. Georgia Power has closed its business offices in Stockbridge and McDonough, along with over 100 business offices statewide, leaving open its 27 busiest business offices in major cities across the state.

At the same time, the electric utility – which serves more than a quarter million customers in south metro Atlanta – said it is nearly doubling the number of locations for bill payment in grocery stores and other spots.

Now the three closest offices for tasks such as paying a deposit, picking up a meter, showing a lease or dropping off construction or easement documents, are the Jonesboro office at 119 Smith St., 13.1 miles from the McDonough Square; the South DeKalb office at 4995 Flat Shoals Pkwy., Decatur, 16.6 miles; and the Forest Park office at 752 Main St., 18 miles.

The changes will result in about 270 job cuts by year-end, the company said, adding that most affected employees can apply for other jobs at the company of about 8,000 employees statewide.

With the migration of many customers to online bill payments and automatic monthly payments – which now account for more than half of all transactions – the Atlanta-based utility said the moves will cut costs to keep rates competitive.

“These changes will better allow us to meet the changing needs of our customers,” said Georgia Power media relations manager Jacob Hawkins, “and provide them with world-class service at the lowest possible rates.”

For merely making a payment on a power bill with cash, the company points customers to the dozens of authorized payment locations (APLs) throughout Henry County. For a list of locations, go to georgiapower.com/paymentlocations.

Today there are over 3,000 such APLs in grocery and retail stores across the state, such as at the courtesy/business desk at Kroger, Wal-Mart, Publix, Walgreens and Kmart locations, among other retail. That number is expected to reach more than 5,300 locations by year’s end, the company said in a news release.

Georgia Power said that it is “continuing to bring more APLs to our customers and will continue to expand our network within grocery and retail stores. APLs offer secure, immediate posting of payments and more convenience and flexibility, including evening and weekend operating hours.”

That convenience comes at a cost, though. Customers paying at a Georgia Power authorized payment location, which is a Western Union agent, must pay a $1.50 transaction fee. Cash is accepted at the APLs, and at some locations debit cards are also accepted; however, checks and credit cards are not accepted. Customers need their bill or account number to make an APL payment.

Marti Kelly, a single mother of three who drove her van slowly past the closed Stockbridge office shaking her head, said the business office’s closing means having to drive 11 miles further to pay the deposit by check on her new account.

“I just moved here from Philly,” Kelly said. “There are PECO (Philadelphia Electric Company) locations just all over town, lots of them, and all over the suburbs. But you know, I saw that they closed a few of them, too. But there was still a location within five or so miles of you, wherever you were. This, yeah this is pretty much a hassle. Well, I guess it’s the effect the Internet has on how companies do business now.”

To avoid paying a transaction fee, customers can pay their bill online at georgiapower.com with a checking or savings account or with a debit card. An online payment with a credit card, however, incurs a transaction fee of $2.25.

Also for a $2.25 fee, customers can pay by phone thru BillMatrix at (800) 672-2402.

Two other ways to avoid any transaction fee is to set up Auto Pay – an automatic debit from checking or savings – or by paying with a check or money order mailed to Georgia Power Payments, 96 Annex, Atlanta, Georgia 30396.

For other requests such as payment arrangements or new service, customers can visit www.georgiapower.com, phone the 24 hour Customer Care Center at (888) 660-5890, or visit the Jonesboro, Decatur or Forest Park business offices.

The two Henry County locations – at 235 Keys Ferry St., McDonough, and 954 Eagles Landing Pkwy., Stockbridge – and 102 others closed between July and mid-October. The remaining 27 business offices – which each handle more than 100,000 customer transactions a year – typically handle a wider range of customer services than the store-based APLs, and can accept a wider assortment of payment options, including checks and credit cards.