Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Voter guide: Public Service Commission

Posted By on Wed, Jul 9, 2008 at 9:02 PM

This information should help you decide who to vote for Tuesday in the primary for state Public Service Commission. It’s the first of several 2008 primary voter guides we’re putting up on Fresh Loaf this week.

Two seats are in play — an open seat now held by a pro-consumer Commissioner Angela Speir and the seat being defended by utility-friendly Commissioner Doug Everett.

Although candidates for each seat must live in a particular part of the state, the seats are voted on statewide — so the “districts” are basically irrelevant to you as a voter.

District 1

Republican Primary

Doug Everett (I)

Rick Collum

You've got to hand it to Rick Collum for the chutzpah he's exhibited in his campaign against incumbent Doug Everett. Collum, a 38-year-old attorney and Magistrate Judge from Moultrie came out punching in a recent debate against the incumebent, accusing Everett of dozing off during hearings and using campaign funds to pay rent on the apartment he uses during the workweek. Everett challenged the claims and says he’s allowed to do so by law.

The fresh-faced newcomer chided the veteran for accepting campaign contributions from parties who argue cases before the commission, funds that he himself declined. Everett asked Collum how he could run a race without them. "The only people who care about what [the PSC does] are those who work within the utilities," he said.

Collum's got a inspirational way with words. According to a campaign tale of the tape provided by the League of Women Voters as to why he wants to run, he "believe[s] that it is time to move forward and plan for tomorrow. Everett's response to the same question? "I enjoy helping others." Aww, that's cute. Here's a sticker.

Everett's been around in politics for quite some time. He recently announced he's been endorsed Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson. He's a three-term legislator, served as a zoning commissioner in Dougherty County, and is now nearing the end of his first term on the five-member commission. He's also had an interesting relationship with some of the utilities the commission regulates. An April AJC article reported he received hockey tickets from SCANA -- he said the writer was mistaken. Click here to read about the snowmobile trip Everett took on a utility's dime while he attended a conference in Colorado. He also disputed that report -- he says the company is not regulated by the commission and he later reimbursed it for his environmentally unfriendly ride through the winter wonderland.

Everett also has been one of the commission’s two most reliably friendly votes for Georgia Power, AGL and other utilities. What a coincidence!

Collum and Everett both say they don't want to raise summer rates. Collum disagrees with charging customers for two new reactors at Plant Vogtle; Everett says the case hasn't been argued before the commission yet so he doesn't have the information needed to comment.

Whereas the incumbent is taking the stance that renewables are well and good, he says they won’t generate the energy needed to power the state. The challenger agrees but says biomass needs to be explored and exploited. Collum pooh-poohed wind energy, saying the state lacks sufficient gusts needed to spin the turbines. Sounds like someone hasn’t heard about the potential off the Georgia coast.

WEBSITES: No website's listed for Collum, but you can email him at rickcollum2000@yahoo.com. View Everett's website here or send him a line electronic-style at hdeverett@alltel.net.

To view the Georgia Public Broadcasting/Atlanta Press Club debate between Everett and Collum, click here. Pure comic joy comes around the 4:45 mark where Collum accuses Everett of dozing off. At the 7:00 mark Captain Nemo defends himself from the "you-fell-asleep" claims.

Georgia Conservation Voters didn’t endorse either candidate.

District 4

Republican primary

Pam Davidson

Lauren “Bubba” McDonald

Consumers and public-interest groups are bidding a tearful goodbye to Republican Commissioner Speir. The advocate for consumer rights who advocated much-needed reform during her term opted not to run again.

Two candidates are vying for her seat. One (McDonald) is a former commissioner with a reputation as contributor-friendly insider,. The other (Davidson) is a political novice who actually understands the clean-energy issues of which she speaks.

A funeral home owner and former state legislator, McDonald served as a Democrat on the PSC 1999-2003, before losing to the then-virtually unknown Speir. He had quite a colorful tenure and was considered largely a friend of the utility companies. The AJC last year that McDonald once issued an order that wasn’t prepared by an employee of the commission’s staff, but typed by a Georgia Power attorney that was arguing the case in question. Speir exposed his ballsy – and sloppy – move years after he left office.

Well, McDonald's back and banging the nuclear drum quite hard. Strike that, really hard. Just read this article from the Augusta Chronicle about his campaign. He hasn't addressed what impact uber-thirsty nuclear reactors would have on the state's already-iffy water sources.

On the topic of clean and renewable energies such as biomass and wind and solar power, McDonald says he favors “reliability” over renewables. He's also accepting campaign contributions from lawyers and lobbyists who would argue before the commission.

Pam Davidson, on the other hand, has sworn off special-interest money and challenged McDonald to the same. The renewable energy consultant and former lobbyist is also a born-again Republican -- she ran for the state House in 2000 as a Democrat.

She's pushing hard for biomass and other clean energies, saying that the state is overlooking a nascent industry that is both better for the environment and a potential boon for its economy. She's also pushing for energy efficiency and conservation. She tells the League of Women Voters that she'd also suggest the state take another look at demand-side management. The practice -- which involves offering rebates and incentives to customers to use less energy -- helped California lower its carbon emissions without hurting its economy. Shocking, I know, but it can be done. Davidson may seem overly optimistic about clean energy, but that might be a good thing at a time when the same old, same old way of business in Georgia has done little for the state but build several of filthiest coal power plants in the nation.

WEBSITES: View Davidson's here. McDonald doesn't have one.

To view Georgia Public Broadcasting/Atlanta Press Club debate between McDonald and Davidson, click here.

Georgia Conservation Voters endorsed Davidson.

District 4

Democrat Primary

Jim Powell

Bob Indech

"That's an excellent question, Jim."

"That's an excellent question, Bob."

Aside from a residency challenge posed against Powell by the Secretary of State's Office -- which was later dismissed by a judge -- the Democratic primary for District 4 has felt more like a gentleman's fencing match than a mudslinging campaign. Both Powell and Indech are well-steeped in energy issues -- Indech is a professional engineer, Powell a recently retired U.S. Department of Energy employee.

Both say the state is letting clean energy opportunities pass it by. Neither is taking campaign money from lobbyists and special interests. So what sets them apart?

Here are their answers to that question, submitted via e-mail:

Powell: The most significant distinction is that I contend that the role of a Public Service Commissioner is a policy position and my opponent disagrees with his perception that the position is "technical." While a Commissioner needs to have a base understanding of all the issues, the job is much larger than that of a technical position. A Commissioner must be able to look at the big picture while considering what is in the best interest of ratepayers, the citizens of Georgia. Many public policy factors come into play when considering rate cases. The Public Service Commission has a highly regarded career staff of about 100 people. The Commission employs a multitude of highly educated and experienced engineers, rate analysts, accountants, attorneys, economists and more. This excellent staff is more than able to handle the technical details and must be relied upon to do so by every Commissioner.

I believe my accounting and public policy background will considerably benefit Georgia ratepayers when the Commission is considering rate cases. If technical support is needed, I know I can rely on the PSC's well-qualified staff. If in fact, if the Commissioner position was a technical position, as my opponent contends it is, it would likely be hired rather than elected.

My opponent has repeatedly expressed a strong pro nuclear position. My position is that Georgia's present and future energy needs are so critical that we need to consider all fuel sources, not simply nuclear energy. Georgia needs to focus on diversifying the fuel mix and place more emphasis on generating electricity from renewable resources. We need to work to create a viable renewable energy industry in the State which will create jobs, use fuel sources that are indigenous to the State, and keep our dollars in Georgia while growing the economy at the same time. We also need an increased emphasis on energy efficiency in our energy decisions.

Indech: We both believe the current power generation mix relies far too heavily on coal, and we both favor alternative technologies for power generation. The devil is in the details. I have forwarded detailed information on a solar company creating cells by continuous run processing, with a cost of 20% of comparable coal generation. I have prepared and made available a detailed water analysis showing the economic benefits of creating cooling ponds for certain antiquated downstream coal-fired plants to allow refilling of Lake Lanier by reducing downstream flow.

My opponent has said that the PSC is a policy position, and that he brings to it expertise in government policy operations, with a background in accounting and business. Many of his cited Department of Energy programs seems to be concerned with “dividing up the diminishing” pie”, and are filled with long and cumbersome application procedures.

I believe that a PSC Commissioner must have first hand knowledge and understanding of the complex technologies involved in power generation, distribution, and consumption. While the PSC employs some engineers as staff, the Commissioner should be able to independently analyze the merits of the rate cases’ proposals. Recently, Judge Moore stopped construction of a new coal-fired plant without carbon scrubbers. Would a technically educated commissioner have approved such a construction?

My background is in engineering and management, with 5 degrees, approximately 20 published papers and many issued patents. No other Commissioner now, elected or candidate, has the technical background to allow analysis of energy production specifics. Law and business backgrounds are adequately represented already among the Commissioners.

Simply put: Indech's heavy technical background has caused some observers to question whether he knows how to shake hands as a politcian should. (“I'm not a career politician," his says in his bio. "And sometimes I do have a pen sticking out of my pocket.") He says his work in administrative roles for the U.S. Army has given him the experience in not just working with others in his own department but with other countries as well.

Powell served in an executive capacity for the feds for 35 years and seems to actually understand the issues as opposed to a politician who parrots sound bites gleaned from a press release. Nuclear isn’t on the top of Powell's list, but he says he's not opposed to it. In a phone interview with CL late last month, Powell said he understands the state couldn't shut down its coal plants tomorrow, but that biomass and other renewables such as wind and solar power need to have a greater presence in its energy portfolio.

Indech, on the other hand, says the state must consider nuclear power for its near-zero contribution to global warming and potential to help wean the state off coal, its primary fuel for energy generation. Those proposed nuke reactors at Vogtle? Powell and Indech both agree that it's premature for Georgia Power to collect fees from Georgians prior to construction. Private communications between commissioners and the parties arguing cases before them? Tighten 'em up, they both say.

This is a tough race to call. Both candidates are knowledgable – look at their credentials -- and likable. Powell's an affable gentleman, Indech has an awkward awesomeness about him. Both understand the impact nuclear power has on water resources. You’re looking at two highly qualified individuals for a very important seat.

WEBSITES: Click here to view Powell's. Click here to view Indech's. To read Indech's "Sustainable Georgia" essay about how the state can veer off its carbon-heavy course and get on the path to clean(er) energy, click here.

To view the GPB/APC debate between Jim Powell and Bob Indech, click here.

Georgia Conservation Voters endorsed Powell

District 1 & 4

Libertarian Party

John Monds (District 1)

Brandon Givens (District 4)

You’re not going to get a chance to vote for either of these two guys Tuesday because the Libertarians don’t have a primary. But come November they can sap needed votes from the Donkeys and the ‘phants. These two candidates don’t really appear as if they pose a threat at the moment, though.

Monds has a website that offers little more than biographical information. Givens, a 29-year-old teacher, doesn’t even have an online presence. You can get a hint of their positions on the League of Women Voters questionnaire, but the responses seem to deal more with competition and transparency than energy policy. (View Monds' here, Givens' here.) Both are running unopposed in their respective districts. Oh, and they both want the PSC to legalize and regulate weed. Kidding!

WEBSITES: Click here to visit Monds' site. Givens doesn't have one but you can reach him at Update: As noted in the comments, Givens does have a website. Visit it here. Send him an email at brandongivens@hotmail.com.

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