4 of 5 incumbent GA PSC Commissioners accept massive utility campaign contributions

Could contributions produce influence? Neither of the incumbent Public Service Commissioners showed up for last night’s GPB debate, just as they didn’t show up for the previous weekend’s GIPL debate. Saturday the AJC examined the incumbents’ campaign finance and regulatory records, and let’s look a bit into how they’ve acted as regulators towards their biggest indirect contributors: Georgia Power.

Kristi E. Swartz wrote for the Augusta Chronicle or AP 21 July 2012, Donors to Georgia Public Service Commission members vested in decisions,

Four of Georgia’s utility regulators have accepted at least 70 percent of their campaign contributions from companies and people that could profit from the agency’s decisions, a review of five years of campaign finance records by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed.

The fifth member of the state Public Service Commission, Tim Echols, campaigned on the promise that he wouldn’t take money from employees or lobbyists for businesses regulated by the agency.

Even so, nearly one in five dollars in Echols’ contributions came from people or companies whose business is affected by PSC decisions, the review found.

Together, the PSC commissioners took in nearly $750,000 in the last five years, records show. Two of them — Stan Wise and Chuck Eaton — are seeking re-election this year to their $116,452-a-year posts.

Wise and Eaton would be the two incumbents who can’t be bothered to show up for debates. Doesn’t make them look very responsive to the people, does it? Who do they respond to, then?

A review of major decisions that have come before the PSC in the past five years shows utilities have received much — but not all — of what they have asked for.

Georgia Power donors

In the past five years, for example, Georgia Power’s rates have risen 24 percent, although they dipped in June. The PSC must sign off on the company’s rate changes.

Current and former employees of Georgia Power, its parent Southern Co. and its law firm, Troutman Sanders, poured $52,650 into the campaign coffers of four of the sitting PSC members.

A Georgia Power spokeswoman argued that including Troutman Sanders and other company vendors in an analysis of spending “is false.” But critics say including them is critical to capturing the full influence of the utilities on the PSC.

Influence like this? Melissa Stiers wrote for GPB News 19 July 2011, PSC Nixes Vogtle Cost Check,

A plan intended to protect consumers from potential cost over-runs at Plant Vogtle is dead. The Public Service Commission staff withdrew the proposal after months of saying it was necessary.

Under the so-called “risk-sharing mechanism,” Georgia Power’s profits would be lowered if the project ended up costing ratepayers more than the $6.1 billion approved by the state.

Georgia Power strongly opposed it, saying had it been in place in the beginning, it wouldn’t have expanded its nuclear plants. It said the plan would harm investment and ultimately drive up the price-tag.

Now the PSC staff has decided to get rid of the plan.

That’s right, GA PSC staff decided and then PSC Commission approved continuing Georgia Power’s guaranteed profit (11%, isn’t it?) at the expense of cost overruns being passed through to Georgia Power customers. Cost overruns on the nukes at Plant Vogtle we don’t need when we could be deploying conservation and efficiency instead of new baseload plants, and solar and wind to do away with coal and natural gas through fracking, which are SO CEO Thomas A. Fanning’s preferred solutions. The nukes Georgia Power says it wouldn’t be building if it couldn’t pass cost overruns through to its customers. Meanwhile, the same GA PSC as a sop to the people required Georgia Power to buy a measely 50 MW of solar power. An amount so low even furniture company IKEA is on track to almost match it, and is already ahead in deploying solar power. When for just the cost overruns Georgia Power’s parent Southern Company could have built 330 MW of solar power by now.

Suppose SO spokesman Steve Higginbottom is right that Southern Company really only ran up about $400 million of that $900 million cost overrun. OK, so SO could have built about 145 MW of solar power by now: that’s still way more than 50 MW. And with the cost overrun slow motion train wreck off track to exceed the entire Georgia state annual budget, how long before SO could have built more solar and wind generation than Vogtle units 3 and 4 are supposed to generate? How long? Not long.

So, did campaign contributions influence the GA PSC incumbents? You be the judge. There’s an election going on.