Kemp puts PSC member on bench, opens utility regulator spot

Georgia’s five-member regulatory body will have a vacancy after Gov. Brian Kemp named longtime commissioner Chuck Eaton to fill a superior court vacancy in Fulton County

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's five-member regulatory body will have a vacancy after Gov. Brian Kemp named longtime commissioner Chuck Eaton to fill a superior court vacancy in Fulton County.

Eaton, who was first elected to the Public Service Commission in 2008, has been serving a third stint as the body's chairman. The commission regulates private, for-profit utilities including Georgia Power Co. and Atlanta Gas Light Co., meaning its decisions affect the pocketbooks of millions of Georgians.

The commissioners are elected statewide but must reside in particular districts. Eaton represents the 3rd District, which includes Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton and Rockdale counties.

Eaton replaces Shawn Ellen LaGrua on the bench. Kemp named her to the state Supreme Court in January.

It wasn't immediately clear Tuesday when Eaton, an Atlanta resident and onetime Republican campaign operative, will join the bench.

The commission is next scheduled to meet Thursday.

Eaton worked in real estate and for a packaging manufacturer before he was elected, originally having earned a bachelor's degree in accounting. But Eaton enrolled in night law school at Georgia State University during his first term on the commission, with the biography on the commission website saying he did so “in order to gain a better understanding of regulatory and administrative law proceedings." Eaton was admitted to the bar in 2013.

Eaton's third six-year term runs until 2024, but anyone appointed by Kemp would have to run for the remainder of the term in 2022. Eaton's successor is likely to vote on critical decisions regarding the two new reactors being built at Georgia Power's Vogtle nuclear plant near Augusta. The $26 billion-plus plant is years behind schedule and billions over budget. Commissioners will have to decide how much Georgia Power can charge ratepayers for and on what schedule.

Like many down-ticket Republicans, Eaton narrowly won re-election in 2018, being forced into a runoff with Democrat Lindy Miller before beating her by about 50,000 votes, a 52% to 48% margin. A lawsuit is challenging whether electing commissioners statewide discriminates against Black people. Eaton’s district would be heavily Democratic if only voters in its four counties chose the commissioner.