Nuclear power group now has $1m in Georgia utility regulator runoff

The Washington D.C.-based nuclear power group hoping to influence the outcome of next Tuesday’s runoff election for a seat on the utility regulating Public Service Commission is continuing to pour money into the race, hitting the $1 million mark in the past two weeks.

Nuclear Matters, which has ties to Georgia, pumped more money into mailings supporting the re-election of PSC Commissioner Chuck Eaton, a backer of Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle project.

The Georgians for a Brighter Future committee, an "independent committee" formed for the runoff between the Republican Eaton and Democrat Lindy Miller, reported collecting another $250,000 from Nuclear Matters for the race on Tuesday, the day after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported its involvement in the contest.

Another independent committee called Conservatives for Energy Freedom and created by a Miller supporter had, as of Thursday, not reported spending money in the runoff. The group, set up by Debbie Dooley, president of the Atlanta Tea Party and an advocate for solar energy, spent about $35,000 on “voter education/engagement” before the general election, according to its filings. Most of its money came from the environmental group Georgia Conservation Voters.

This week a group from Washington D.C. called the Center for Voter Information put out a mailing in the race comparing the positions of the two candidates on three issues. Though the wording of the mailing is supportive of Miller, the group said it does not endorse candidates.

Among those on the "advocacy council" for Nuclear Matters is former PSC Chairman Stan Wise, who resigned earlier this year but hung on to his post long enough to join Eaton and three other members in greenlighting Georgia Power's plan to continue construction on two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, a project now running five years behind schedule with billions of dollars in cost overruns.

Miller called Nuclear Matters’ involvement in the race “an attempt to buy an election in Georgia.”

Eaton said he, and not an independent committee, controls his campaign and that he has a record of fighting to keep electricity rates low in Georgia.

Eaton, who has served on the commission since 2007, has been a staunch supporter of the Plant Vogtle project, maintaining that it will provide clean energy to the state while diversifying Georgia’s energy mix.

Miller said she does not oppose nuclear power but doesn’t want Georgia utility ratepayers being saddled with the project’s cost overruns. She said the commission has not held Georgia Power accountable for delays and cost overruns that have been synonymous with the project.

By law, independent committees are not allowed to coordinate directly with campaigns, but they can play a major role in elections. Some of them disclose little or nothing about who is paying for advertising. Several were formed this year to support the gubernatorial candidacy of Democrat Stacey Abrams, and a Washington-based committee spent more than $3 million in negative advertising to help defeat state Sen. David Shafer in his Republican runoff for lieutenant governor.