By LAUREN SHANTHA
ATLANTA – On November 6, voters of Georgia will not only be voting for the country’s next president; they will also vote for their choice of Public Service Commissioner of District 3.
The Public Service Commissioner is in charge of regulation of telecommunications, natural gas, and electric. The Georgia Public Service Commission has exclusive power to decide what constitutes fair and reasonable rates for services under its jurisdiction.
For PSC, Georgia is set up into five districts. Its five members are chosen to represent specific districts; they are elected in state-wide elections to staggered six-year terms. A vote of 3-2 is an acceptable count for a policy to pass within the Public Service Commission.
District 3 covers the four counties of DeKalb, Fulton, Rockdale and Clayton. The three candidates running for District 3’s Public Service Commissioner are incumbent Commissioner Chuck Eaton, Democrat Steve Oppenheimer, and Libertarian Brad Ploeger.
Eaton was elected to his first term on the Public Service Commission in December of 2006. He has an accounting degree from the University of Alabama and enrolled at Georgia State Law School in 2009. Before serving on the Commission, he was an account executive for a large manufacturer in LaGrange, Ga. Eaton’s decision to run came from his financial and manufacturing background.
“Managing our state assets, utilities and that capacity is like managing an investment portfolio,” Eaton said. “You want diversity of assets so there is a lot of cost and expenses associated with it. It was just an opportunity to have an impact on our state. I am all about making sure we have competitive rates, and how to attract jobs to this state. It was just on opportunities to use my skill set.”
Within his term he has played a role in the approval of Vogtle, the first U.S. nuclear plant in nearly 30 years. This project has been said to be over budget and not on track.
“[What] the Public Service Commission has approved so far is a cost reduction in the budget,” Eaton said. “But what the media has done is quote the litigation position and everybody reads that. This is the most extreme position. The project has gone extremely well.”
Over the summer Eaton was involved in a 6 percent cut in electric rates for Georgia.
“My goal for energy rates is to continue to keep us competitive not only in this country, but internationally. It is important from a job standpoint and for folks struggling, whether they are on a fixed income or are retired, that we keep those rates as competitive as we can,” Eaton said.
Eaton has a strong focus on job creation for the region.
“My goal is to make Georgia as attractive of a state as possible to get jobs in the region. Whether it is a high-tech job, solar, or manufacturing,” Eaton said. “There is a state like California, whose energy cost is 50 percent higher than Georgia and companies are relocating out of there. I am not trying to favor any one business over another. We need to do our bid to keep energy rates competitive and other state officials can do their part with regulation.”
Eaton supports solar energy as long as it does not unduly burden consumers. He believes that solar power generation should be added when it makes economic sense and doesn’t impose a higher cost on ratepayers.
Eaton: Oppenheimer follows “California Model”
Eaton also believes a 50 percent chance of a runoff exists, because a third candidate is in the race. He does not know much about the positions and policies of Libertarian candidate Brad Ploeger. Eaton said he met Democratic candidate Steve Oppenheimer and refers to him as a personable man, but said they have different opinions. According to Eaton, Oppenheimer follows “the California model.”
Oppenheimer is a former small business owner, the proud father of three boys, and a long-time community activist who’s interested in energy security and energy independence issues.
Oppenheimer has five pledges.
- To promote transparency by the Commission encouraging the free market and free enterprise, which Georgia’s innovators and world class institutions need to thrive and create more jobs and industry.
- To make Georgia’s job growth and economic development a “top priority of the Commission with respect to opportunities and innovations in telecommunications, transportation, electric and natural gas services.”
- To promote power production in Georgia, using both traditional sources as well as diversified sources, such as natural gas, solar, biomass and wind.
- To meet future energy needs, with affordable, reliable and responsible energy sources.
- To fight for a safer and healthier Georgia.
“Georgia families and small businesses need a common-sense voice on the Georgia Public Service Commission; someone who’s dedicated to protecting homeowners’ rights, reducing power bills for Georgia families and creating good energy jobs in Georgia,” Oppenheimer said.
Libertarian Ploeger grew up in Roswell, Ga., where he graduated from The Walker School of Marietta. He attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Ploeger is a founder and co-owner of Arkturis, Inc., a firm specializing in helping small to medium-sized businesses develop their information technology infrastructure. Ploeger recently completed a two-year term on the Libertarian National Committee.
According to his website, Ploeger’s agenda if elected Public Service Commissioner of District 3 includes the idea of consumers first, open ethical government, and fiscal responsibility.
In putting the consumer first, Ploeger will not be watching out for regulated businesses. He refuses to accept any campaign contributions from regulated businesses or individuals that bring matters before the commission.
With an open ethical government, Ploeger will work to eliminate the practice of utility gifts and personal favors to sitting commissioners.
Ploeger also believes that the Public Service Commissioner must ensure that any requested rate increase is both reasonable and prudent. Ploeger was unavailable for comment.
Voters throughout the state vary.
“No one really realizes the importance the Public Service Commission has. It controls our energy rates,” voter Victoria McLeod said. She believes that Republicans are corrupt. “After you vote for the president we vote for this office. It’s a big deal, and you have to watch out for those Republicans who are like Nazi’s.”
Each candidate will be part of several events leading up to the November voting day to help voters decide.