A runoff for a seat on the Public Service Commission usually doesn’t draw much attention.
However, Tuesday’s vote for the District 3 race between two-time Republican incumbent Chuck Eaton and Democrat businesswoman Lindy Miller has attracted hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars for the candidates and re-ignited the debate over the viability of the troubled Plant Vogtle nuclear facility.
The intensity of the race was evident when Eaton and Miller squared off last week during a spirited televised debate. Miller challenged Eaton’s committment to reduce the financial burden for ratepayers footing the bill for the construction of the twin Vogtle nuclear reactors being built in Waynesboro. That project’s costs have doubled to nearly $27 billion and will be five years behind schedule upon completion.
“He has failed to put in any meaningful incentives to finish the project in time and on budget,” Miller said of Eaton’s 12-year service at the commission.
Eaton said he has protected Georgia Power ratepayers and that Miller doesn’t fully understand the role of the PSC.
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“You do understand that the PSC does not regulate gasoline prices or how much people use in their air conditioning? said Eaton to Miller during the debate.
“I am very very familiar with what the PSC regulates,” said Miller.
VIDEO: More on upcoming runoffs
The race has attracted big money, especially from pro-nuclear interests.
An “independent committee” funded by a nuclear-power industry group poured at least $750,000 into next week’s runoff in support of Eaton, a backer of Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle project. Eaton said he has no knowledge of the group.
The Georgians for a Brighter Future committee, which was formed the week after the general election, reported receiving its financing from a Washington-based group called Nuclear Matters, part of the Nuclear Energy Institute, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The committee paid for mailings and began running ads on Facebook last week, including one stating that Eaton helped reduce power rates for senior citizens as a member of the public-utility regulating PSC.
“Republicans are probably nervous that if Democrats are able to repeat their high turnout in metro Atlanta counties that they could win the PSC race,” said David Shock, political science professor at Kennesaw State University.
But Miller sees it as an attempt to “buy the election.”
“My opponent can’t fight for the public interest because he is in the pocket of the special interests,” she said.
Eaton said that he can “only control my own campaign, and it’s about my record and my vision for Georgia. I’ve worked to keep our electricity rates low for Georgia families and job creators.
Emory Political science professor Zachary Peskowitz said he is not surprised at the last minute efforts to get voters out for the incumbent.
“There is a lot of evidence that campaign advertising and mobilization messages right before an election have the largest effect compared to spending earlier in the election cycle,” he said.
The candidates are running to represent District 3, which includes Fulton, Dekalb, Rockdale and Clayton counties. Commissioners elected to the body serve staggered six-year terms and decide the rates state electric and natural gas customers pay. They also approve long-term energy plans investor-owned electric and natural gas companies present to the body.
Eaton ran unopposed during the May primaries and is seeking a third term to the five-member body. He said he’s running to help keep energy rates low, diversify the state’s energy portfolio, keeping job growth in the state and completing the construction of the Vogtle nuclear reactors.
Miller, a former executive and businesswoman in the solar industry, ran a well-funded campaign advocating for lower bills for energy users in the state, more investment in alternative cheaper and cleaner forms of energy and being an independent voice in the commission.