ATLANTA — The Republican primary race for the District 4 Public Service Commission seat is heating up after a final debate was held Tuesday night by the Atlanta Press Club.
Incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald is squaring off against Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz and Lavonia attorney Doug Kidd.
The commission regulates the rates and services of Georgia Power, natural gas providers and telecommunications businesses. The commission, however, does not regulate municipal utilities and electric membership corporations, such as Jackson EMC.
The 30-minute debate explored a variety of energy issues that directly impact consumers’ pocketbooks, including Georgia Power’s solar initiative, federal regulations and potential changes to the telecommunications industry.
The biggest point of contention, perhaps unsurprisingly, centered on how to keep energy prices low for Georgians, but the three candidates vying for the Republican nomination had different takes on how to ensure this.
For example, McDonald defended his support for requiring Georgia Power to commit to generating 525 megawatts of solar power. But Lutz said he believed this “mandate” would drive up power costs for most Georgians.
“Our solar initiative is not a mandate,” McDonald said, the first in a series of back-and-forth barbs between the two candidates.
Later, when candidates were allowed to ask their opponents a question and then provide a rebuttal, McDonald questioned why Lutz called the solar requirement a mandate.
Lutz said the commission’s own news release about the megawatt requirement on Georgia Power stated as much. McDonald responded that the requirement had been debated and supported by Georgia Power.
Meanwhile, Kidd addressed a regular target of conservatives’ scorn — the Environmental Protection Agency.
Despite new federal emissions standards, Kidd said he supported coal power largely because it remains one of the cheapest sources of energy readily available to Americans.
“Unfortunately, [the EPA] is regulating now in such a way that it’s detrimental to Georgians,” Kidd said. “… There’s not much the state can do about it.”
When Kidd got his turn to ask a question, he pointed it at McDonald, accusing the incumbent of taking too large a salary and working less than 50 percent of the time.
“That’s not fair to the taxpayers of this state,” Kidd said.
Lutz also took the opportunity to question McDonald’s positions, including his eager support for solar power.
“Things that hurt taxpayers in the long run [are] not something [the commission] should be advocating for,” Lutz said, adding that solar energy projects were costing more than they are saving.
The commission recently signed off on a Georgia Power rate hike, prompting Lutz and Kidd to question whether this move had essentially guaranteed profit margins for the power company.