ATLANTA -- The three Republicans vying for their party's nomination to the Public Service Commission differ on a wide range of issues.
During a debate Tuesday evening sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, the trio jousted over policies related to solar power, ethics and finances for the construction of two reactors at Plant Vogtle.
Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, in seeking re-election, defended attacks from Lavonia attorney Doug Kidd and Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz. Kidd blasted the incumbent for accepting more than $20,000 in meals and other entertainment from utility lobbyists. Lutz accused him of imposing a "mandate" on Georgia Power Co. to build 525 megawatts of solar generation when the company already had more generation capacity than it needed.
"I don't believe that mandate was good for Georgia," said Lutz, a one-time Bellsouth manager.
McDonald rejected the word mandate because conservatives generally oppose requiring specific levels of renewable resources. He said that when the commission reviewed Georgia Power's long-range plans, it was appropriate to specify energy sources. He replied to Kidd that he violated no laws.
Kidd said McDonald doesn't act like a conservative.
"I don't think it's very conservative to take a $160,000-a-year job of taxpayer money and only show up 40 percent of the time," Kidd said.
McDonald acknowledged being out of the commission office frequently, but he said he funds a district office out of his pocket where he sometimes works and that he also has meetings across the state.
Both challengers blamed McDonald for Georgia Power boosting rates four times in four years. McDonald said overly stringent federal enforcement of environmental laws was the reason for most of the increases.
"Yes, I stand by that," he said, adding that the state has the most reliable electricity and rates that are still 15 percent below the national average.
On solar power, Lutz and McDonald agreed that Georgia Power shouldn't charge property owners a monthly fee just for having access to electricity from the utility. Kidd said the fee was reasonable as long as it wasn't too high.
In a rare moment of unanimity, they all agreed in allowing private companies finance and own solar panels on homeowners' rooftops and paying them rent in the form of electricity with the balance being sold to utilities.
They disagreed when it came to financing nuclear construction. Kidd said taxpayers lost out recently when the federal government waived the fee on loan guarantees behind Plant Vogtle. McDonald and Lutz saw it as a bargain for Georgia ratepayers.
The challengers joined in criticizing McDonald for the commission's decision to delay addressing projected cost overruns at the plant. The commissioner said action had to wait until a related lawsuit was resolved.
When asked about the Universal Service Fund on landline phone bills, Kidd said it should be ended. McDonald said it is still needed to subsidize small phone companies in rural areas, and Lutz said it should be expanded to fund broadband internet access across the state.
The three are running for the District 4 seat, but they are on the ballot statewide. The winner will face Democrat Daniel Blackman, watched the debate from the audience.