ATLANTA - Two Democrats running for the Georgia Public Service Commission focused their fire Monday on the current PSC and Georgia Power Co. rather than each other.
Daniel Blackman, a longtime environmental advocate, and John Noel, owner of an energy-efficiency contracting company, are seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Republican Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald in PSC District 4, which includes northern Georgia and the state’s eastern border south through Augusta.
In a debate live streamed by Georgia Public Television, both accused the PSC of dragging its feet when it comes to developing renewable energy and deploying broadband service to rural Georgia.
“We’ve got a lot of coal power still hanging around and a lot of natural gas that comes from fracking sources,” Noel said. “We do not have enough solar.”
Blackman said the commission is not doing enough to work with the state’s electric membership corporations (EMCs) to promote broadband in rural Georgia. Inadequate internet service in rural areas has become even more of a problem as the coronavirus pandemic keeps people at home, he said.
“We need to help educate communities … and give communities input into a lot of this process,” he said.
Both candidates have run unsuccessfully for the PSC in recent years. Noel, who represented an Atlanta district in the Georgia House of Representatives in the early 2000s, has moved to Augusta so he can seek the District 4 seat. Under a unique provision in state law, PSC candidates are elected statewide but must live in the district they wish to represent.
“It’s important for the city of Augusta to have a statewide elected official. They haven’t had one in decades,” Noel said. “It’s an antique and dumb system, but I’m living by the rules.”
Noel is taking a different approach toward by running for the PSC in combination with fellow Democrat Robert Bryant of Savannah, who is seeking the District 1 seat covering all of South Georgia. Currently, all five seats on the commission are held by Republicans.
“We believe that running as a tandem is stronger,” Noel said. “When we win, we’ll have two seats of the five.”
With a background in the environmental justice movement, Blackman said the rate increases the PSC approved for Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light last December are being disproportionately felt by low-income customers.
“Seniors on fixed incomes are struggling to pay bills,” he said.
Blackman said the commission also needs to do more to help low-income families and renters invest in clean energy.
“They can’t afford to install rooftop solar,” he said.
Both candidates also complained about the basic service fees the PSC lets the utilities charge regardless of how much electricity or gas a customer consumes.
Blackman and Noel will face off for the Democratic nomination to challenge McDonald in a June 9 primary.