Running to remain on the PSC are Republicans Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, in District 4, and Jason Shaw, in District 1.
McDonald, 81, of Clarkesville, faces opposition from Forsyth County Democrat Daniel Blackman, a 41-year-old former business consultant, and Libertarian Nathan Wilson, a 35-year-old Bartow County cabinet maker and former executive director of the state Libertarian Party.
Shaw is running against Robert Bryant, a 42-year-old Savannah Democrat who previously held higher education management positions, and Elizabeth Melton, a 53-year-old Columbus Libertarian and freelance technical writer.
While all the PSC candidates say they will hold down power bills as much as possible, doing so may be difficult.
Georgia Power’s residential rates and fees per kilowatt-hour remained below the national average last year, according to analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
But the company’s rates were higher than the overall average for Georgia electric providers, most of which have prices that the PSC doesn’t regulate. And Georgia Power rates are on the rise: It is early in a phased-in, three-year rate increase approved by the PSC last year.
Rates are expected to increase further when more costs of the company’s nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle are included in customer bills. Work at the plant is years behind schedule.
Beyond rates, Georgians tend to have higher energy bills compared to the country as a whole, in part due to hot, steamy weather that causes people to crank up air conditioners.
Shaw and McDonald have each reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions this election cycle. Much of the giving was from businesses and people with ties to the energy and telecommunications industries, including some top leaders in Southern’s organization.
The other candidates have reported far less in campaign donations of any kind.
Rep. Jason Shaw appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to serve at the Georgia Public Service Commission, effective January 1, 2019.
Shaw is a former state legislator and insurance company owner from Lakeland in South Georgia. Last year, he was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to fill the unexpired term of a commissioner who resigned. Most big decisions on Vogtle were made long before Shaw joined the PSC.
Shaw said he has dug deeply into complex energy issues and puts consumers first in his decisions. He said he’s focused on encouraging wider broadband service in rural Georgia, which the PSC has limited sway over, and increasing biomass energy, which typically relies on burning wood or other plant debris.
PSC member Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, a Republican, is running to keep his position on the Georgia Public Service Commission in a district that includes north Georgia.
Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC
Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC
The other incumbent, McDonald, is a funeral home owner, former state legislator and long-time PSC member. More than a decade ago, he voted with the majority of the PSC to back Georgia Power’s Vogtle expansion. McDonald said he continues to support the project as a long-term, stable generator of carbon-free energy.
He describes himself as “an independent conservative voice,” and he has challenged Georgia Power on some fronts. He successfully and repeatedly pushed to increase solar power. And last year, he proposed a significantly smaller rate increase for Georgia Power, but the PSC went with bigger increases that covered more company costs and set profit rates well above the industry average.
If McDonald wins reelection, he would be 82 by the time he starts a new six-year term.
McDonald’s and Shaw’s challengers have been critical of the PSC’s handling of the Vogtle expansion, but none favor trying to halt the project so far into its construction.
Despite recommendations from state staffers and independent monitors, the commission has cleared some hurdles for a large portion of the extra costs to potentially end up in customer bills. And it set a new cost cap. But some approvals are still required before costs can be passed along.
Shaw said Georgia Power officials “are going to have a hard time convincing me to increase that cap. ... I’m going to put a lot of faith in what our independent monitors and staff tell us."
Said McDonald, “I don’t plan on changing that cap.”
Daniel Blackman, a Forsyth County Democrat, is running for a seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission. Photo courtesy of Blackman’s campaign.
Blackman, the Democrat challenging McDonald, said Vogtle’s cost overruns to customers should have been limited years ago. “I don’t think in good faith I could vote for those costs to be passed on to ratepayers.”
During a candidate debate, he said he has no problem with utilities being profitable, but he will be “a fearless voice that will stand up to utility companies, let them know when they are right but correct them when they are wrong.”
Nathan Wilson is a Libertarian running for the Georgia Public Service Commission's District 4 seat. Photo courtesy of Wilson's campaign.
Wilson, the Libertarian candidate in the district race, said he supports more nuclear power if additional energy generation is needed, but he said Georgia Power shouldn’t be allowed to profit more as a result of overruns on the Vogtle project.
And he said he doesn’t think consumers should have to make up the cost difference from what Georgia Power initially estimated the Vogtle expansion would cost.
Robert Bryant is a Democrat running for the Georgia Public Service Commission in District 1. Photo courtesy of the Bryant campaign
In the District 1 race, the Democrat Bryant said none of the Vogtle’s overruns should be passed on to consumers. “That’s not how we treat the working class. I am here to stand for every community in Georgia, every citizen in Georgia, including the most vulnerable communities.”
He said he was troubled by the PSC’s decision to end its moratorium on Georgia Power disconnecting homes for non-payment of bills during the pandemic. The company said it has shifted customers to installment plans that give them six more months to pay, without late fees.
Elizabeth Melton is running as a Libertarian for the Georgia Public Service Commission in District 1. Photo courtesy of Melton's campaign.
Melton, the Libertarian candidate in the district race, said not all of Georgia Power’s Vogtle overruns should be covered by customers. Too often, costs of mistakes are passed along to consumers, she said. Ultimately, she said, Georgia needs to allow all consumers to freely choose among competing electric providers.
HELPING YOU VOTE
Find previews of key local, state and congressional races, plus everything you need to know about Georgia’s new voting machines and your different options for casting your ballot at ajc.com/voter-guide