An “independent committee” with ties to the nuclear power industry is spending at least $750,000 in next week’s runoff to support the candidacy of incumbent Chuck Eaton, center left, for the Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulator. Eaton has been a supporter of Georgia Power’s project to add two reactors at Plant Vogtle, which is now five years behind schedule and has seen billions of dollars in cost overruns. (BEN GRAY / Staff)

Pro-nuclear power group pumps $750,000 into Georgia PSC runoff

An “independent committee” funded by a nuclear-power industry group is plowing at least $750,000 into next week’s Public Service Commission runoff in support of incumbent utility regulator Chuck Eaton, a backer of Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle project.

The Georgians for a Brighter Future committee, which was formed the week after the general election, reported receiving its financing from a Washington-based group called Nuclear Matters, part of the Nuclear Energy Institute, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The committee paid for mailings and began running ads on Facebook last week, including one stating that Eaton helped reduce power rates for senior citizens as a member of the public-utility regulating PSC.

The Republican Eaton, who faces Democrat Lindy Miller in the runoff, said he learned about the advertising only a few days ago. “Somebody just forwarded me their website yesterday,” he said. “That really is the extent of my knowledge about that group. I don’t know who the group is.”

Eaton later added: “I only control my own campaign, and it’s about my record and my vision for Georgia. I’ve worked to keep our electricity rates low for Georgia families and job creators. That’s why I’m the only candidate on the ballot this year endorsed by the Georgia Chamber and major labor unions.”

Miller called it “an attempt to buy an election in Georgia.”

“My opponent can’t fight for the public interest because he is in the pocket of the special interests,” she said.

Among those on the “advocacy council” for Nuclear Matters is former PSC Chairman Stan Wise, who resigned earlier this year but hung onto 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.

Eaton, who has served on the commission since 2007, has been a staunch supporter of the project, maintaining that the plant 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. Miller said her own attempts as a private citizen to obtain information about the project have been blocked.

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.

Still another independent committee, called Conservatives for Energy Freedom, spent about $35,000 on “voter education/engagement,” according to its filings. Most of its money came from the environmental group Georgia Conservation Voters, and the committee produced videos critical of incumbent PSC members such as Eaton who were running for re-election.

State Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, a Miller supporter, attended a press conference Monday criticizing the Georgians for a Brighter Future advertising. She called it part of a long-standing campaign by utilities to control the PSC.

“Every Georgian around this state needs to fully understand what is going on here and see it for what it is,” Parent said. “This dark money plowed into this race shows you how urgent it is to have an independent voice on our Public Service Commission.”

But Eaton said Miller “has based her campaign on issues that the PSC has no control over, from the price of gasoline to how much Georgians use their air conditioning.”

“Today’s stunt shows she’s not only unqualified but also a hypocrite,” he said, “because her campaign was the only one with third-party support in the general election.”

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