Two Georgia runoff races you know about; then there’s the third one

Two of three races in Georgia’s runoff election have snagged national attention and hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign spending. But many Georgians probably never heard of the two men running for a statewide seat on the state Public Service Commission. Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, an 82-year-old Republican and his Democrat challenger, . Daniel Blackman are getting snippets of recognition as they tag along on the campaign trail with their party’s candidates for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats. The five-member commission oversees utility and energy issues and decides what Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light can charge consumers and businesses. That includes determining how much customers will pay toward Georgia Power’s multi-billion-dollar cost overruns on its nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle

Senate hopefuls dominate headlines; PSC race flies mostly under radar

Two of three races in Georgia’s runoff election have snagged national attention and hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign spending.

The third race? Many Georgians probably never heard of the two men running for a statewide seat on the state Public Service Commission.

The five-member commission oversees utility and energy issues and decides what Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light can charge consumers and businesses. That includes determining how much customers will pay toward Georgia Power’s multi-billion-dollar cost overruns on its nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle.

Normally, PSC candidates have a hard time getting attention, said Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, an 82-year-old Republican who has spent years on the commission and is seeking reelection. “It is so much under the lily pads.”

Still, McDonald and his Democrat challenger, Daniel Blackman, a 41-year-old former business consultant from Forsyth County, are getting snippets of recognition as they tag along on the campaign trail with their party’s candidates for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats: Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

On a Dec. 5 stop in Georgia to stump for Loeffler and Perdue, President Donald Trump called the names of Georgia officials present and highlighted that “Bubba McDonald” — “I like that name” — was seeking reelection to the PSC. Biden also cited the PSC race on a recent campaign visit for Warnock and Ossoff.

Daniel Blackman, a Democrat in a runoff to serve on the Georgia Public Service Commission, speaks during a “Get Ready to Vote” rally highlighting Georgia Democrat U.S. Senator candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff at Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Daniel Blackman, a Democrat in a runoff to serve on the Georgia Public Service Commission, speaks during a “Get Ready to Vote” rally highlighting Georgia Democrat U.S. Senator candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff at Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Blackman, the Democrat in the PSC race, said he’s raised more campaign donations in the last six weeks than in the rest of his run this year. He has a lot of ground to make up. Donations he reported earlier were about a tenth of what the incumbent, McDonald, reported raising. The Republican disclosed more than $400,000 in earlier donations, much of it from donors tied to the energy and telecommunications industries. Among those who gave to him: attorneys who represent Georgia Power before the PSC.

McDonald voted early on to back Georgia Power’s Vogtle expansion, which is now years behind schedule, and he said he continues to support the project as a long-term, stable generator of carbon-free energy.

Lauren “Bubba” McDonald is a Republican incumbent in a runoff for a statewide seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission.
Lauren “Bubba” McDonald is a Republican incumbent in a runoff for a statewide seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

He has repeatedly pushed the state’s largest electric provider to increase its use of solar energy. And last year, he proposed a significantly smaller Georgia Power rate increase than what the PSC ended up approving.

“I’ve been a very conservative, independent voice,” he said. “I stand up against the utilities when it is time to stand up.”

Blackman has accused the Republican of often favoring large utilities over the community and customers. McDonald contends that his Democratic challenger backs steps that will so aggressively cut carbon emissions that they will harm the nation.

The PSC cleared some hurdles for a large portion of the extra costs on Vogtle to potentially end up in customer bills, and it set a partial new cost cap in 2017. But the PSC would still need to vote before those costs — and potentially more that have arisen since — could be passed along to Georgia Power customers.

“I don’t plan on changing that cap,” McDonald has said, referring to the 2017 vote.

Blackman has said of the overruns, “I don’t think in good faith I could vote for those costs to be passed on to ratepayers.” While he has said the nuclear project is too far along to be halted, he has criticized the PSC for not putting an early, lower limit on how much of its costs would be covered by ratepayers.

He also said he would have pushed for a longer ban on Georgia Power disconnecting homes for non-payment of electric bills during the pandemic.

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