N.B.: THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE is a nonpartisan journal of opinion at the University of Georgia. Information in the following article does not serve to officially endorse any particular candidate.
The 2nd Public Service Commission District in Georgia runs from Gwinnett County near Atlanta to the South Carolina border, encompassing Athens. So far, three candidates have submitted their names for the election nearly a year from now in November 2016. This election is especially significant because the Public Service Commissioner’s term runs for six years. When asked the same four questions, all three candidates personally submitted responses to THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE.
Austin describes herself as “an eighth generation Georgian, a mother of five, and a small-business owner” who “has a vested interest in Georgia becoming more competitive and ensuring reliable, affordable energy for decades to come.”
The Gwinnett County resident continued that she “may be the only… announced candidate that is qualified to serve,” because she lacks a “financial conflict of interest.” Austin claims to have no “personal energy agenda,” adding that a commissioner should not have “made their income from the industries over which the PSC holds influence and authority.”
She came from a conservative, Christian home, staying involved in politics and campaigning throughout her life. As a first–time candidate for public office, she has seen politicians “get caught up in the power of politics — those who sell-out to special interest, either for personal gain or to try to secure their position.”
The future of nuclear energy in Georgia is one issue that has surfaced recently, since commissioners are responsible for much of the state’s energy policy. Austin observes that, “the merger between Southern Company (Georgia Power) and Atlanta Gas Light to create the second largest utility monopoly in America, and one that is heavily focused on natural gas, indicates a massive transition that the industry as a whole is moving away from nuclear.” She says that because the “expansion of nuclear Plant Vogtle (units 3 and 4) continues to increase at a rate of $2 million a day,” the “cost to ratepayers is eroding confidence in nuclear as a financially viable energy source.”
If elected, Austin says her goal will be to increase the Commission’s “transparency” through recorded votes. She states that voters “cannot afford for the PSC to remain secretive and keep the details about rate increases and the cost of producing energy hidden from…those in Georgia that desire to be informed.”
Commissioner Echols is the incumbent in this race, first elected in 2010 to the six-year term. Married to Windy Echols for 32 years and a father of seven, Echols resides in Athens. He received his first degree from the University of Georgia and holds two other UGA graduate degrees.
Instead of elaborating on his own qualifications, in his statement Commissioner Echols deferred to Roy Bowen of the Georgia Association of Manufacturers. According to Bowen, “Commissioner Echols has demonstrated sound judgment, an indefatigable work ethic, superb powers of comprehension, and a refreshing willingness to hear all sides and fully engage every issue in dealing with complex utility matters …. The result has been that Georgia families and businesses have benefitted by affordable and dependable service from the utilities regulated by the PSC.”
Initially, Echols “ran for the PSC to make sure Georgians had a strong consumer voice on the PSC.” His website lists five questions that he asks before every PSC vote, including “Is it right for the consumer and Georgia families?” and “Will it mean more jobs for Georgia?”
Echols is invested in Georgia’s nuclear energy program. He embraces the idea that “Georgia is leading the nation” in regards to nuclear development. As improvements on the two nuclear facilities in Georgia progress, Echols hopes that “we get a Republican president that will rein in the EPA. If that happens, then maybe coal in America gets a fighting chance.” He promises that the PSC will try to keep energy costs down. If re-elected to the PSC, Echols says that “besides pushing back the EPA, removing the nuclear waste from our state is most important to me. Whether it goes to Yucca Mountain or whether it is reprocessed, it matters not. I want the federal government to make good on its promise to pick up the waste.”
On her own since the age of 16, Michelle Miller has spent much of her life mentoring students and young professionals. She holds certification in ethical leadership, and offered “professional services for emerging companies and entrepreneurs in order to give back.”
In 2014, Miller “was given 900 acres of land for renewable energy development projects.” She says that shortly after receiving the land, she found policies that limited the role Georgia farmers play in the “energy solution.” She is running to create “workable solutions that decrease rates and create long term growth strategies in the small to mid-size renewable technology markets.”
Graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor’s in Energy and Sustainability Policy, Miller is currently working on an Executive MBA from the University of North Alabama. She is also certified in ArcGIS, a planning and data analysis application. Miller says she “gained knowledge on geothermal, biomass, solar, wind, and bio-fuel technologies” through her research in Costa Rica with The GREEN Program. She has consulted in France, China, and the United States.
Miller claims that while clean, efficient nuclear power is 26% of Georgia’s net electricity, there are problems with its cost. She asserts that the PSC approved the construction of Vogtle 3 and 4 “with an approximate value of 6 billion dollars in benefits to the ratepayer,” but that “the project is steadily heading toward negative 300 million in ratepayer benefits.”
If elected to the PSC, she wants to ensure communication with Georgia’s 159 counties to “discuss their economic indicators” and “to analyze whether their residents could withstand a rate increase.” She makes two promises: to “restore partnerships with county officials” and to “create a conference, every other year, so county officials could gain insights into opportunities that they can utilize from industry professionals in the electric, natural gas, and telecommunications arena.”
Public service commissioners are responsible for much more than voters usually realize, making this an important election. I would encourage all those voting to further research each candidate’s qualifications and detailed policy propositions.
— Michael Duckett is a junior studying political science
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