Uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic has many companies tossing out profit projections for the entire year. But not Atlanta-based Southern Company, the parent of Georgia Power and electricity providers in Alabama and Mississippi.
Southern executives are sticking with their profit guidance for 2020, banking on some economic recovery in their territories, coupled with cuts in Southern's operating costs. No layoffs or furloughs are planned, a spokesman said Friday, even though electricity sales are likely to remain down.
If executives are right, Southern's profits actually could be higher than they were last year. The company partly has benefited from rate increases added earlier this year to Georgia Power electric bills and Atlanta Gas Light charges on natural gas bills. The hikes were approved by the elected Georgia Public Service Commission in December.
AGL Resources, which is part of Southern, is the parent company of Chattanooga Gas Co., which supplies natural gas to about 66,000 customers in Hamilton and Bradley counties.
Southern leaders sounded mostly bullish on a conference call with analysts, but they said uncertainty remains about the continuing impact of the pandemic.
Assuming an end to some government restrictions by midsummer and a slow economic recovery throughout the rest of the year, electricity sales could be down 2% to 5% for 2020, factoring in normal weather, Southern said.
That would stem from sales declines to customers in two sectors: commercial (down 5% to 10%) and industrial (down 4% to 8%). Southern projects residential sales will be up 1% to 3% for the year, as people have holed up at home.
Meanwhile, Southern Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tom Fanning said two nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle should still meet their latest deadlines to operate, though they are already years behind schedule.
The 9,000-person workforce on the project south of Augusta was scaled back recently as absenteeism rose during the pandemic and the company opted to send more workers home, expanding on earlier efforts to create social distancing.