Georgia Public Service Commission, the state agency that has FAILED to protect ratepayers in Georgia, has a new chair
The Public Service Commission (PSC) is the state agency in Georgia tasked with protecting consumers and regulating utilities, but Georgians don’t know who they are or what they do for them. What they do know is that their utility bills keep going up and the money available to take care of their families keeps getting smaller as a result of the votes they take.
Thanks to the PSC, this will continue to happen until Georgians make a change and elect new leadership to this state board that has failed in its mission to protect citizens.
On its website, the Public Service Commission says “Our mission is to ensure that consumers receive safe, reliable, and reasonably priced telecommunications, electric, and natural gas services from financially viable and technically competent companies.”
This is far from what the PSC actually does for Georgians. Since last year, citizens, utility advocacy groups, and community organizations have been opening the aperture for others to see on the hurtful actions of the current members of the PSC, highlighting how they have failed miserably in protecting rate-payers from the gouging they have been subjected to from Georgia Power.
This utility giant has been relentless in going to the PSC for rate increase, after rate increase, after rate increase, which PSC members have happily granted, despite the negative impacts each approved rate increase is having on ratepayers around the state. The latest rate increase granted to Georgia Power occurred a few weeks ago.
After their latest action to separate the good people of Georgia from their money, the PSC has decided it’s time for a new chair.
Jason Shaw, who serves District 1 in South Georgia, was unanimously selected to serve as chairman effective July 22. Shaw will serve a two-year term.
Following the PSC’s “shuffling of the deckchairs on the Titanic”, Shaw decided it was a good idea to sit down with the AJC for an interview. What we found frightening are many of the comments and admissions from the newly elected Shaw that should have ratepayers on edge about the future. Here is a direct quote from Shaw’s interview.
After a unanimous vote to confirm his chairmanship, Shaw said he intends to continue on the commission’s current path to “keep Georgia moving forward.” He noted several tough issues before regulators, including overseeing the completion of Georgia Power’s new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, which are years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
These words should cause all ratepayers to shudder. It is frightening confirmation that the PSC, under the leadership of its new chair, will be business as usual and continue down the same path they have been on, which includes coming back to your wallets and placing the ‘billions of dollars’ on the backs of ratepayers to benefit Georgia Power.
Shamelessly, Shaw also spoke about “clawing back money from Georgia Power and using it to lower rates if we’re able to prove that certain costs were not prudent.” This is a startling statement from him, especially after the PSC generously and unanimously approved several rate increases that are hurting consumers. What data and which reports did they look at that convinced them at the time rate increases were prudent and appropriate, but in hindsight, might not have been?
After the horses have left the barn, the new chair is suggesting that it might not have been prudent to grant those rate increase requests to Georgia Power. Here is a question, “Why continue to say yes to Georgia Power if you are not certain that their rate increase requests are valid, or using your word – PRUDENT?
The videos of Georgians coming before the PSC and begging them not to raise rates is emotionally staggering as you listen to the plight of speaker after speaker. As each person approaches the microphone, they are not even given the respect of the attention of the Board as PSC members rummage around papers and check their phones for emails.
Disrespectful to citizens, but sensitive to criticism, Shaw defended what he characterized as the commission’s “constructive regulatory relationship” with Georgia Power against concerns that the commission, all five members of which are Republicans, is too deferential to the private utility. “We’re seeing unprecedented increases in energy costs across this country and it’s something that’s not always pleasant to deal with,” Shaw said. “We make decisions based on what is presented before us and what is on the record and what we think that we can win in any appeal.”
Georgians are holding their breath waiting for a sign of ‘constructive regulations’ coming from the current PSC board. Ratepayers have been paying for the Georgia Power reactors for years and there is no end in sight.
PSC staff estimated during a hearing in January 2023 that the average Georgia Power customer will have already paid about $913 in their monthly bills for Vogtle construction and when Unit 3 comes online, who knows what that number will look like. Ratepayers will begin paying even more if costs are passed along after hearings expected to be held in the coming months.
After the cancellation of the PSC elections last year, and as the state continues to wait for the outcome of a lawsuit before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals alleging that holding PSC statewide elections for geographic district seats discriminated against Black voters, Georgians are patiently waiting for an election where they can finally hold the current PSC leadership accountable.
Currently, two members of the PSC commission occupy seats they were not elected to hold by the citizens of Georgia (Tim Echols and Fitz Johnson). Not only are they illegally occupying these seats, they are placing financial burdens on the backs of ratepayers with their continued sanctioning of Georgia Power rate increases, which will not stop until the purses and wallets of every Georgian is drained and our children’s children are stuck paying for Plant Vogtle and anything else Georgia Power wants.
The outgoing chair, Tricia Pridemore, who many have described as the worst of the five PSC members because of her disrespectful tone and abusive manner to citizens who come before the Commission, will continue to serve out her term as a commissioner, which ends in 2024. Many in the political community have indicated an interest in running against Pridemore, and they should.
If Georgians want change, it must start with changing the makeup of the current PSC to one that cares about consumers, versus one singularly focused on big business and the needs of Georgia Power only.
This requires having a long memory, and when the time comes, voting for the self interest of you and your families by voting for Shelia Edwards, Patty Durand, and ABT (anybody but Tricia).