There was an odd moment during the May 3 debate among the Democrats seeking to represent District 3 on the Georgia Public Service Commission.

One of the three candidates, Johnny C. White, was represented by an empty chair at the forum, sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club and Georgia Public Broadcasting.

(White told the Atlanta Jewish Times that his absence was the result of a scheduling conflict.)

When the candidates present were given an opportunity to question an opponent, John Noel addressed White’s empty chair rather than Lindy Miller, who was standing to his right. Noel’s question suggested that he thinks Georgia Power put up White as a candidate to dilute his challenge.

Whichever of Miller, Noel or White advances from the statewide May 22 primary (and any necessary runoff July 24) will face Republican incumbent Chuck Eaton and Libertarian challenger Ryan Graham in the Nov. 6 general election. 

The winner will serve a six-year term, earning $116,452 per year, as the commissioner from a district composed of Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton and Rockdale counties.

All five current commissioners are Republicans.

In 1999, Noel founded Energy + Environment LLC, a company that “specializes in energy efficient lighting upgrades for commercial and industrial clients,” according to its website.

Noel won election to the Georgia House from District 44 in 2002, running unopposed in the general election, but was unseated in the 2004 Democratic primary.

At the debate, Noel criticized the PSC’s decision to allow the continued construction of two nuclear reactors at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, near Waynesboro, a project years behind schedule and billions of dollars over its estimated cost.

“We should abandon it now and take our lickings,” Noel said.

John Noel, a former state representative, is running for the Public Service Commission in District 3.

Noel rejected the idea that Plant Vogtle is a done deal, saying that, if elected, he would push the PSC to shift the cost burden from ratepayers to the shareholders of Georgia Power and the plant’s other owners.

“I’ll take it to Georgia Power,” Noel pledged, a sentiment that he repeated during the debate.

“We should move to a clean and green future,” particularly as solar energy and other technologies become less expensive, he said.

The primary “will boil down to one thing, electability,” Noel said. “People are mad about high utility bills, mad at a crooked system that is broken. We want a champion who will fight against the establishment.”

White brings a different résumé to the race.

“I have 39 years of information technology experience. No other candidate has the level of knowledge and depth of experience that I have,” he told the AJT.

White also touts a different focus.

Johnny C. White

“My No. 1 priority if elected would be security. Remember the recent hacking of Atlanta’s (city government) computer networks and the risk of cyberattacks by foreign nations? I would work to make sure Georgia’s power infrastructure and ratepayer data is not vulnerable to hackers,” White said.

A cyberattack “could be very perilous for us if the infrastructure is breached, and there have been known occurrences of that happening. Nobody’s talking about that,” White said.

As for Plant Vogtle, “I believe an assessment should be done to determine as to whether to scale back construction, in order to know what would be the better outcome for ratepayers,” he said.