Watchdog group questions legality of Ga. PSC commissioner’s deleted texts

A watchdog group has lodged a formal complaint with the state against a Public Service Commissioner, claiming he deleted text messages in violation of Georgia’s Open Records Act.

In the complaint against Tim Echols, the commission vice chairman, William Perry, executive director of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs wants the state attorney general to investigate Echols’ actions.

The complaint follows an investigation in early March by the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI), a fossil fuel and utility watchdog group, in which the commissioner was unable to provide records of text messages he had exchanged with some Georgia Power officials. Echols claimed his phone was set to automatically delete text messages older than 30 days.

“As the text messages on my personal phone are a part of the [Plant] Vogtle appeals case I have been advised by our attorney to make no further comments,” said Echols via email.

The attorney general’s office said they would discuss the matter with the PSC and provide appropriate legal advice.

Perry said Echols told him that his phone has been updated to ensure text messages are saved “forever” and are available for review upon request.

According to Daniel Tait, a research and communication manager at the EPI, portions of the deleted messages may have included conversations that Echols had with Georgia Power officials in the period leading up to a crucial commission vote in December on Plant Vogtle in east Georgia.

Consumer advocacy groups in the state, including Georgia Watch, challenged the ex-parte conversations  Echols had with Georgia Power officials after the commissions hearings in November, saying such communication is prohibited between state regulators and concerned parties prior to a vote.

Echols authored the motion that was unanimously supported by the five-member commission last December granting Georgia Power approval to keep construction going at Plant Vogtle.

The project, in its ninth year of construction, has suffered numerous delays resulting in cost overruns. By Georgia Power’s latest estimates, completion is set for 2022, five years behind the schedule .