There is an inverse relationship between the impact that the Public Service Commission has on the lives of Georgians and the amount of attention Georgians give election contests for seats on the PSC.
Which is unfortunate, considering that the PSC determines what Georgians pay for electricity, natural gas and telecommunications.
Two of the five seats on the PSC are on the ballot this year.
Commissioners, who serve six-year terms, are elected statewide, but represent specific districts. The job pays an annual salary of $116,452.
Its website states that the PSC “must balance Georgia citizens’ need for reliable services and reasonable rates with the need for utilities to earn a reasonable return on investment.”
That sentence can be applied directly to the debate over the Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant. The two-reactor unit under construction in Waynesboro, in east Georgia near Augusta, is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
Georgia Power owns 45.7 percent of the project, Oglethorpe Power Corp., 30 percent, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, 22.7 percent, and Dalton Utilities, 1.6 percent.
The past, present and future of Plant Vogtle has become the overriding issue in the elections for PSC seats.
District 3 is comprised of Fulton, DeKalb, Rockdale and Clayton counties. In that race, Democrat Lindy Miller and Libertarian Ryan Graham are challenging incumbent Republican Chuck Eaton, who was elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2012.
Miller, if elected, would potentially be the first Jewish woman to win a statewide vote. (Former Attorney General Sam Olens was the first Jewish man elected statewide.)
District 5 covers a larger piece of geography and includes Cobb, Douglas, Fayette and Henry counties. In that race, Republican Tricia Pridemore is only the third woman to serve on the PSC, appointed in 2018 by Gov. Nathan Deal to fill a vacancy. She faces Democrat Dawn Randolph.
Candidate for Georgia Public Service Commission:
Chuck Eaton has served two, six-year terms on the Public Service Commission, a government agency that receives far less attention than it deserves, considering that it regulates what Georgians pay for electricity, natural gas and telecommunications.
Eaton, a Republican, is the incumbent representative from District 3, which includes Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton and Rockdale counties. He is being challenged by Democrat Lindy Miller and Libertarian Ryan Graham.
PSC members are elected statewide but represent specific districts. Miller is attempting to become the first Jewish woman to win a statewide vote.
The top issue in the PSC race remains the ongoing saga of the billions-over-budget, years-behind-schedule construction of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power plant in Waynesboro, Ga.
Miller faults Eaton for failing “to put in place any budget controls” at Plant Vogtle, causing Georgia families to pay an extra $100 a year on average over the last six years, in addition to what Miller calls the third-highest energy bills in the country.
In a debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, Eaton said, “Our bills haven’t gone up over the last seven years,” while also blaming the weather. “Georgia is in a hot, humid area. I can’t control the weather.”
Eaton agreed with Miller that Georgia should embrace “all forms of energy, including nuclear and solar. Diversity is key.” He notes that Georgia ranks 10th in the country in solar capacity, up from 34th in 2010.
Business has benefited from his position on the PSC, Eaton said, noting that he has received campaign contributions from both labor unions and manufacturers, as well as endorsements from the state AFL-CIO and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
Eaton points out that Georgia Power customers have received refunds based on agreements between the utility and the PSC stemming from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
Miller charged that Eaton had received contributions from the public utilities that he’s responsible for regulating and, according to his September campaign finance report, he has received thousands of dollars from executives at the Southern Co. (which owns 45.7 percent of Plant Vogtle), Southern Natural Gas, Gas South, and Ringgold Telephone Co.
According to his campaign finance report, Eaton raised $273,921, spent $36,359, and had cash on hand of $237,561.
At a Cobb County Republican event in July, Eaton said, “The Democrats that we’re running against from the top of the ballot to the bottom of the ballot now are the most liberal, radical kind. It’s not traditional Democrats that we’ve had in Georgia. They now wear the socialist banner proudly. You see what’s going on in California and New York. They’re not running from the far-left extreme positions that they have now. They always used to run to the middle. It’s just as far left as it’s ever been. It’s radical ideas. On the energy front, they’re trying to emulate states like California who pay 70 percent more for their electric bills than we do here in Georgia. We don’t want that in Georgia.”
Eaton, 49, supplemented his accounting degree from the University of Alabama with a law degree from Georgia State. He is also an experienced manager of Republican political campaigns. Away from work, Eaton and his wife are proponents of foster parenting and are raising their third foster child. Eaton and his family live in Atlanta and are members of the Northside United Methodist Church.
Georgia Public Service Commission:
Lindy Miller contends that the seats on the Georgia Public Service Commission have “flown under the radar for too long.”
Since quitting her job at the global business consulting firm Deloitte a year ago to run for the District 3 seat on the PSC, Miller has worked to raise the profile of the commission even as she introduces herself as a first-time political candidate.
“This is the most important seat that most people have never heard of,” she told the AJT.
PSC commissioners are elected statewide, but represent specific districts. District 3 is made up of Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, and Rockdale counties. Commissioners are paid an annual salary of $116,452.
If she prevails, Miller (An AJT “40 Under 40” last year) is believed to be the first Jewish woman to win a statewide race.
As of the Sept. 30 deadline for filing campaign finance reports, Miller had raised more than $1.03 million, more than any other down-ballot candidate. “I’d always said that my goal is between $1 and $2 million,” she said.
By early October, Miller had spent about $600,000, with $500,000 expended on winning the May 22 Democratic primary, in which she captured 157 of 159 counties. She had cash on hand of about $400,000 to carry her the last five weeks of the campaign.
During her fundraising forays, which included about 200 house parties, Miller discovered that “People are thirsty to know what their vote means. It’s personal. When I decided to run, I was told that if people trust you and know that you will fight for them, they will vote for you. It’s been an incredible experience to meet people and hear their stories. I feel called to serve. It’s amazing to create something out of nothing when people want to come together. It leverages all the things I love.”
A graduate of Woodward Academy, the University of Pennsylvania and the Harvard Kennedy School, Miller co-founded a solar energy company, Cherry Street Energy, about two years ago. She’s a proponent of alternative energy, arguing at an Atlanta Press Club debate that over the past 12 years – Republican incumbent Chuck Eaton’s two terms – the PSC has missed opportunities to invest in new technologies.
In the debate, Eaton questioned Miller’s ownership of an energy company while running for the PSC. Miller replied that, if elected, she will sell her stake in Cherry Street Energy and “in anything related to the PSC.”
Miller charged that during his tenure, Eaton has received more than $300,000 from energy and communications companies. Eaton’s campaign contribution report includes donations from executives from Southern Co., SCANA Energy, Cobb EMC, Southern Natural Gas and AT&T, among others.
Miller complains that Georgia has the third highest energy bills in the country. Families and small business owners are struggling. Referring to the expensive, incomplete Plant Vogtle nuclear plant, she charged that Eaton “failed to put in place any budget controls. Over the last six years, we have all paid a fee on our bills of an average of $100 per family. He was chairman of the committee when the project began. This is one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in the history of the United States. We need greater accountability.”
Unlike many other states, Georgia doesn’t have a statewide energy plan, Miller said. “We’re behind. The status quo is too expensive.”
Miller, an Atlanta native who lives in Decatur with her husband and three young sons, has been especially gratified by the support received in the Atlanta area. “It’s rewarding to run for office in your hometown. There’s a strong community of people and I’m a product of this community,” she said.