GA PSC questionnaire answers: Steve Oppenheimer

Steve Oppenheimer The Georgia Sierra Club sent a questionnaire to all candidates for Georgia Public Service Commission. None of the incumbents answered. The two challengers did. Here’s the one from Steve Oppenheimer for District 3. -jsq

  1. As a Candidate for Public Service Commission, what is your campaign strategy for achieving 50% +1 of the votes cast?

    [I’m omitting the answers to this question. -jsq]

  2. How should the Public Service Commission consider and weight the impacts to community health (asthma, cancer rates, etc.) and on Georgia’s environmental (water quantity, air quality etc.) when making decisions about a utility’s generation portfolio?

    The PSC has a major role shaping energy policy for Georgia. I would like to schedule PSC hearings on the relationship of power production and our air, water, morbidity and mortality and our general quality of life. My professional background in dentistry & health care provides a keen understanding of the relationship of power generation and health. Dr David Satcher, former US Surgeon General and Executive Director Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse University has become a friend and part of my professional network during the campaign. I would like to see PSC convene hearings on the topic. Georgians for a Healthy Future, a relatively new, broad based, organization would provide another forum for discussion of these issues. Membership in Georgians for a Healthy Future includes Georgia Legislators on both sides of the aisle. The PSC must be a leader on these issues—as the legislature as a body will likely not be progressive on these issues.

  1. As a Public Service Commissioner, would you enforce utility resource diversification by mandating a continued expansion of Georgia Power’s energy efficiency and solar energy capacity? If so, what would your mandates look like?

    Energy efficiency and Renewable Energy (including solar energy) with specific percentage targets must be part of the language within the 2013 Integrated Resource Plan agreed to between the PSC and Georgia Power as Georgia plans for its long term energy needs. The State Energy Strategy Report (SES 2006 & updated 2012) and the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority make clear Georgia must diversify its energy mix to achieve “Energy Assurance”- which in my campaign language I have called “Energy Security.” During the Resource Planning process the utility will reveal 20 year projection of energy demand as well as plant closures and plant conversions to natural gas from coal. It is within these parameters that energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies can be made to be part of the solution.

    In the PSC Debate at Emory University I went on record suggesting an Energy Efficiency goal for 2015 of 1-2%. While still in consultation, with my technical advisory team for specific renewable energy percentage targets, I think 0.5% by 2015 with 0.5% annual increases is feasible.

  2. Do you believe that the Georgia Territorial Act allows for renewable energy power purchase agreements and third party sales? As a Public Service Commissioner, what would you do to ensure Consumers retain the right to generate electricity from renewable energy on their own property?

    I’ve made it a platform issue from day 1; No one will more staunchly defend homeowner’s rights—including the ability to generate power on their own property. The Territorial Act was created by the Georgia Legislature and ultimately this is the entity that would modify it. I will use my bully-pulpit on the PSC to testify at the General Assembly in support of a bill that would give Georgia property owners the ability of consumer choice enabled by financing. When the Solar Bill was in play during the last General Assembly, the silence from the PSC was deafening. The PSC should convene public hearings on this topic: “Why does 3rd Party financing working in 45 other states and not Georgia?”

  3. Would you advocate for the repeal of the Nuclear Construction Work in Progress Tax? When Georgia Power Seeks additional cost-recovery for the expansion of Plant Vogtle would you, as a Public Service Commissioner, require risk-sharing mechanisms or deny those requests in order to shift the economic burden of construction cost-overruns from rate-payers to share-holders? At what degree of cost overrun would the cost-recovery be denied?

    Should it be necessary for the PSC to “certify” an amount greater than the originally approved budget, due to cost overruns I will fight to see that “risk-sharing” is added to the Vogtle agreement. The shareholders of the corporations involved should have “skin in the game”, not just the ratepayers. I would expect that “imprudent” cost over-runs be denied recovery. The PSC must set a precedent of fighting for the average Georgian NOT for the utilities—we as ratepayers should expect high quality and timely construction in ALL construction proposals that involve expense to the ratepayer. All construction projects with which I have been involved had both “contingency” and “change order” allowances within the original budget. I would hope this is true of this project and cost overruns are not passed thru to the consumer.

  4. High-risk investments into new nuclear and traditional fossil fuels development are taxing to our state’s water resources. In cases of severe drought, water —dependent generating facilities will be forced to shut-down operations. As a Public Service Commissioner, what will you do to ensure a diverse energy portfolio which protects Georgia’s vital water supply and the Georgia Public from rolling brown-outs?

    I’ve been following this issue for months—and it has been discussed on the campaign trail. I am very concerned that erratic weather patterns, droughts, etc will put at risk the traditional power sources. New Thermo-electric plant (i.e. Natural Gas) construction areas must be heavily vetted to the impact they will have on their respective water sheds. Further diversifying the energy mix to include Solar PV, Wind (off coast) and energy efficiency will be crucial if we are to prevent brown-outs in periods of extreme weather.

    The 2012 Georgia Energy Report by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority point out the interrelationship of Energy Production and limited water resources. Water & Energy are currently in different agencies. There must be communication and coordination between these agencies as part of the Resource Planning.

  5. Do you support prohibiting campaign and lobbying contributions to PSC Candidates or incumbents from utilities regulated by the PSC as well as from both their employees and law firms?

    Yes, I will refuse any lobbyist gift or a campaign contribution from the agents of the utility companies to my campaign.

    I think there is a better and higher use for $100K a year in gifts and contributions utilities invest in the PSC race.- I would respectfully request this money instead be used to convene a statewide forum for our university students studying energy and sustainability to learn from leaders in those fields so we may expand the vision for Georgia’s future. Perhaps we can even create an “X-prize” competition for improving the way we use and manage our energy in Georgia.

    I believe the outcome in the long term would spur innovation, improve energy policy and ultimately create more jobs as we diversify our energy mix and protect our air and water resources. I have developed relationships with Professors around Georgia who are interested in this project, to whom it could be “in-sourced” to Georgia for implementation.