Commissioner Stan Wise of east Cobb is seeking a fourth six-year term on the five-member commission, which regulates electric, natural gas and telecommunications services in the state. He is being challenged by first-time candidate David Staples, a Libertarian who lives with his wife on a horse farm near Powder Springs.
Wise said he is proud to have helped Georgia lay the groundwork for the addition of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, the first nuclear expansion in the United States since 1979.
“We’re well on our way to being in the vanguard of nuclear regeneration,” he said. Georgia Power is the largest owner in the project.
But Staples said Wise is allowing Georgia Power to pass cost overruns on the nuclear project to its users, instead of having the money come from the profits the PSC guarantees it.
“I don’t think it should be solely the rate payer,” said Staples, 31. “A business shouldn’t be guaranteed a profit when they are not managing projects or certain aspects of that business appropriately.”
Wise, 60, said the commission has a thorough review of the costs at Plant Vogtle every six months to determine which costs are “prudent and reasonable.” The company is responsible for anything deemed out of bounds.
“Mr. Staples probably has a misunderstanding of how we review the costs at Plant Vogtle,” Wise said. “I would encourage him to read the state laws that say how we do that.”
Staples also has a problem with Wise casting the deciding vote in a June decision to allow Georgia Power to pass the cost of $3.2 million in disputed expenses along to its ratepayers. The vote came days after Wise received $10,000 in campaign contributions from Troutman Sanders, the law firm that represents Georgia Power, and its attorneys.
“It’s certainly a conflict of interest,” said Staples, who added that he won’t take any contributions from executives, lobbyists or lawyers of firms he is making decisions on.
Wise defended the donations, saying he only raises money during election years.
“People have a right to participate in the political process,” he said. “It’s allowed in the campaign. It’s legal, it’s reasonable and it’s recordable.”
So far, Wise has heavily outspent his third-party opponent.
Wise’s most recent financial report, filed Thursday with the state Campaign Finance Commission, shows him having raised a total of $430,920, with a net balance on hand of $3,276. Staples made his most recent filing on Oct. 4, showing him raising a total of $7,344, with $4,942 on hand.
Staples has endorsements from across the political spectrum, ranging from Cobb Taxpayers Association founder Lance Lamberton to the Sierra Club of Georgia. He said Libertarian views aren’t necessarily different from those of the environmental group’s.
“We look at things being good for the environment as property rights,” Staples said. “No one should have the right to pollute the water I drink or the air I breathe. Taking care of the environment is not necessarily a party issue, but we make it so from time to time.”
Along with adding to the state’s nuclear capacity, Wise said the Public Service Commission is working to build natural gas pipelines to rural areas and expand solar power by between 60 and 70 megawatts a year over the next three years. A megawatt produces enough electricity to power about 1,000 homes.
“The job is unfinished,” Wise said. “One of the things we’re trying to do is maintain reliability in the state. Relative to the rest of the country, we’ve got one of the most dependable, reliable systems.”
The other Public Service Commission race puts incumbent Republican Chuck Eaton against Democrat Stephen Oppenheimer and Libertarian Brad Ploeger.
Each of five geographic districts must be represented on the Public Service Commission, though the members are elected statewide. The positions pay $116,000 annually.