The state’s Public Service Commission impacts the wallets of millions of electricity and natural gas customers, yet the five regulators are among the least known elected officials in Georgia.
Still, the low-profile state body suddenly finds itself in the crosshairs of a statewide debate that has reared its head just weeks before the Nov. 6 elections. Recent news of an additional $2.3 billion cost overrun at the Vogtle nuclear power plant has served as a thorny reminder to customers (and voters) of the role commissioners play in determining who picks up that tab.
VIDEO: More on voting in Georgia
The commission is the chief regulator of investor-owned utilities in Georgia and must sign off before a company, such as Georgia Power, can raise customer rates. Consumer advocates say the commission hasn’t done enough to protect ratepayers from cost overruns at the nuclear expansion project led by Georgia Power.
“The commissioners have been asleep at the switch all along,” said Sierra Club’s legislative chair Mark Woodall.
Thrust into the controversy are incumbent Republican commissioners, Tricia Pridemore and Chuck Eaton, who face highly-contested re-election bids against democratic challengers, Dawn Randolph and Lindy Miller. Each statewide race also has a libertarian candidate on the ballot.
A top concern for consumer groups are the seemingly endless cost increases to the nuclear plant expansion in Burke County.
Vogtle units 3 and 4, the nation’s only new nuclear reactors under construction, have been plagued by rising cost. The total project cost is now estimated at more than $27 billion with completion deadlines pushed back to November 2022.
The commission’s vice chair, Tim Echols, has felt a need to defend the body, and by extension his two fellow commissioners up for re-election. The commissioners serve staggered six-year terms with at least one or two commissioners up for election every two years.
Echols said critics have unfairly distorted the commission’s record in an effort to stop the Vogtle expansion. He said the commission has imposed penalties on Georgia Power and pressured the power company to write off $700 million in recent overruns while capping the amount the company can recoup from ratepayers at $10.5 billion.
“Sadly, certain radical opponents will never be happy with anything but a cancellation of the project,” said Echols, who is not running for re-election this fall.
In addition to Vogtle, the incumbents and their challengers have tried to address a variety of energy and utility issues across the state. Next year, the commission, which also ensures the safety and security of the state’s pipeline system, will be deciding on Georgia Power’s 20-year energy plan. They will also decide whether to approve new rates for Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light customers.
Chuck Eaton- Republican, incumbent
Has served at the commission since 2006. Eaton supports Vogtle but admits “Vogtle has been frustrating.”
Issues: Keeping rates low for energy consumers, diversifying the state’s energy mix, supporting job growth and increasing rural broadband.
“Consumer needs have been well represented during my tenure on the PSC: The average bill has not gone up in 7 years.”
Lindy Miller- Democrat
Businesswoman and former executive at Deloitte. Her campaign has attracted over $1 million in donations so far.
Issues: Lowering utility bills for Georgia customers, embracing new job-creating technologies, and providing the business-skills, independent oversight and vision that Georgia desperately needs on the Public Service Commission.
“Georgia’s families, small businesses, cities and schools are paying dearly because the incumbent utterly failed to put in place any meaningful incentives to keep the project [Vogtle] on time and on-budget. From my experience in the business world, the people behind such a colossal mess would be fired,” said Miller.
Ryan Graham- Libertarian
Project manager for a software company.
Issues- Consumer choice for electricity sources, balancing consumer interests against power monopolies, engaging citizens in discussions about what is happening at the PSC.
“I am against the project plan for Plant Vogtle as it stands…The current project demands that ratepayers are forced to put forth their funds while being guaranteed that their rates will go up in the future, while Georgia Power is allowed to profit on the project while construction is ongoing.”
Tricia Pridemore- Republican, incumbent
Appointed to the commission in February by Governor Nathan Deal.
Issues: Supports Vogtle, low rates for energy consumers, job creation and diversified energy sources in the state.
“Upon re-election, it will be an honor to continue fighting for low-rates and quality service for all Georgians.”
Dawn Randolph- Democrat
Public Policy consultant
Issues: Reliable and safe energy sources, providing affordable and fair utility rates and embracing energy efficiency, rural broadband and emerging technologies for a sustainable future
“We have a great opportunity to advance the infrastructure for fast and reliable internet access, electrical vehicle drivers, and cutting-edge business enterprises across Georgia.”
Issues- Consumer choice for electricity sources, consumer advocacy, careful decision making on issues brought to the commission.
“I strongly oppose the Nuclear Construction Recovery fee and similar means of coercively socializing the cost for the expansion of a private business.”
ABOUT THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
Why does the race matter?
Why does the race matter?