ATLANTA - The four men vying for the Republican nomination to the Public Service Commission sparred over funding for Plant Vogtle and ethics during their only televised debate Friday.
The matchup was the first of the primary season for the series sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Most will be televised live on statewide public stations, but their debate is only available online at both organizations' websites.
Former Sen. Joey Brush, Rep. Jeff May and Sen. John Douglas all sounded their support for a law change that allows Georgia Power Co. -- one of the owners of Plant Vogtle near Augusta -- to charge its customers during construction of two reactors. Under prior commission policy, utilities couldn't begin charging until power plants were generating electricity.
Tim Echols, a former campaign aide to John Oxendine, disagreed. He said the company's shareholders should have borne the upfront costs of constructing the reactors.
"It wasn't a vote about nuclear power. I'm pro-nuclear power. It was about pre-charging Georgia consumers," he said.
May said that building reactors should be encouraged because the cost of operating them is less than other fuels, many that are imported. And upfront payment will ultimately save consumers the financing costs that would have mounted during construction.
"Any time you can save the consumers, the ratepayers, who are ultimately going to pay for it, money, I think it's a good idea," he said.
Douglas chided Echols for not having to make tough choices the others faced as legislators.
"Nuclear power is good for Georgia. It's here. It's efficient. It's not some voodoo power source like they want us to use in Washington," Douglas said, adding he was glad he voted for the bill.
Brush, who noted that he was a construction manager when Plant Vogtle's current reactors were built, said he also favored charging customers in advance.
"I'm for it because I believe it will speed up getting our nuclear reactors online and help us increase the portion of our energy from nuclear," he said.
Echols and Douglas traded shots over campaign donations and meals from utility companies. Echols asked the legislator if he would return all the contributions he'd received during his eight years in the General Assembly. Douglas replied that he's been honored with top lawmaker awards by eight groups.
"You don't get to be senator of the year by being somebody's lapdog, being lazy or not paying attention to what's going on," Douglas said.
Echols promised, "I pledge not to even take a drink of water with those people that I regulate."
Whichever of the four wins the Republican nomination will face Democrat Mary Squires and Libertarian James Sendelbach in November.