The Sierra Club Centennial Group held a Meet the Candidates forum on July 5 at Life University. The forum included candidates for state legislative seats and Cobb County Board of Commissioners. This third part of our coverage features Dawn Randolph, the candidate for the state’s Public Service Commission who attended the forum.
The Public Service Commission
According to Ballotpedia, “Commissioners are elected to six-year terms in staggered years. Each of the five commissioners resides in one of five districts, the boundaries of which are established by state law. Though each commissioner must be a resident of the district he “represents” for 12 months prior to election, commissioners are chosen in statewide elections and not by the citizens of their district. Commissioners take office on December 31 in the year of their election.”
Since Randolph was the only Public Service Commission candidate who came to the forum, she was given an opportunity to speak at the closing of the event, rather than sit on a panel.
Randolph opened by saying, “We have an agency that is the oldest in the state. It was founded in 1879 as the Railroad Commission. And then in 1922 they added the electricity utility and became the Public Service Commission. For the past 24 years, we have had people who serve a six-year term. Besides the U.S. Senate, this is the longest-serving agency official. So this is a big decision … I live in Henry County in Stockbridge. I’ve lived there for 17 years, but I’ve lived on the southside for 30 years.”
Campaign money from the utilities
“What we have found is the Public Service Commission is making a lot of decisions based on who pays for their campaigns,” Randolph said.
She said that her opponent had accepted money from the utilities, including from the vice presidents and surrogates of Georgia Power and its parent, the Southern Company.
“As a regulated quasi-judicial board, that you elect, I don’t think that we should be getting their money, from the people they regulate, and I have vowed, and as I did when I ran for this job in 2006, to not take money from those that I regulate.”
“When I ran in 2006 I was 40 years old and got 42 percent of the vote. I am now 52 years old and I need 52 percent of the vote,” she said, to laughter and applause from the audience.
“I have an undergraduate degree in international political science, I have a minor in military affairs … I’m an army brat. I’ve lived all over the place. I lived in Germany for seven years… Germany, last May, had 82 percent of its energy coming from renewables. What they did was they had backup batteries. Tesla’s creating them, other agencies are creating them, and they were powering everything. (In Germany) I lived in a 700-year-old community. My home was built probably 40 or 50 years before we moved in. It now has solar panels on it.”
She said communities in Germany that are nearly 1,000 years old are now getting all their energy from renewables.
“How can they do that? They do it by conserving. Energy efficiency is one thing that they do a lot, it’s the cheapest form of energy. That can be done to a lot of buildings.”
“I am tired of being a blank check for an over-priced, undelivered product, which is called Plant Vogtle.” The audience applauded loudly. “I will now channel Carl Sagan, and tell you that it is billions, and billions, and billions of dollars over budget.”
“We’re talking about a project that was supposed to create two new nuclear reactors, (that are) $14 billion over budget, and five years behind schedule. Now as a military affairs person, and living around the world, nuclear is part of our energy portfolio. But we also have to make sure it’s fair and affordable. And right now, that project is not fair, and it is not affordable,” she said.
“Can we shut it down? I don’t have access to all their proprietary information. What I do know, there are a lot of great jobs there, there’s a lot of energy that’s supposed to be produced, but if this project is viable, why doesn’t Georgia Power risk share? Why do we as the rate-payers, the consumer, have to pick up 100 percent of the financing, that they’re making billions and billions of dollars in profit on?” Randolph said.
Nuclear power and renewable energy
“So how do we hold them accountable for a project that is over-priced and undelivered?” she asked.
“When you have competent people that care about who the consumer is you can make a change to the Public Service Commission … what you’re doing (in electing the PSC) is you’re hiring somebody to hold a monopoly accountable. And that should not be a partisan issue. That should be a good business issue. That should be an issue of good management. When we’re looking at the integrative resource plan that’s going to be coming up, making sure that we have a plan that is moving us toward a renewable future.”
“We can’t just say ‘no nukes’ unfortunately, because there is a military application here.”
She said her principles are affordable and fair rates. “Right now we don’t have those. We are the second highest utility bill in the country. We are the largest state east of the Mississippi. There are people in south Georgia who are paying more for their utilities than for their rent or mortgage,” she said.
The grid and cyber-hacking
Randolph said, “I am really concerned about our grid system, and how we’re protecting it from cyber-hacking. And we need to make sure that we’re holding any utility accountable to make sure that when our grid goes down, it is truly a capacity issue, and it is not a hacking issue.”
She closed with, “And finally, the sustainable and safe and renewable energy future, it is there. We haven’t had an energy policy in this country for forty years. I think if you look at the PSCs around the country, it is time for us to come together, lobby Congress to get a future that is truly energy renewable. And Georgia has so many beautiful sunny days.”
“Think about it. If you can help people understand that we have the opportunity to elect two women, who are both very much science-minded, very management-minded, and can make a difference, you’ll be sending a signal that this will be a sea change, and we will hold the utilities, which are monopolies, accountable.”