Ga. official holds social media 'town hall'

Thursday, May 9, 2013 10:20 AM
Last updated 7:09 PM
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ATLANTA – One statewide officeholder is using social media as a forum for discussion with citizens who know the right “hashtag.”

Politicians have long held what they call town-hall meetings that mimic the governing conferences small towns in the northeastern United States hold a few times yearly to decide community issues. In recent years, members of Congress have tapped new technology that calls constituent homes to invite them to participate in teleconferences labeled as town hall meetings.

Now, Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols is scheduling an online discussion via Twitter, a social-media Web site that automatically searches pre-requested topics. Because the site limits messages to 140 characters, users quickly discovered a simple way to devise unique, searchable labels for specific conversations is the addition of the hash mark symbol that isn’t otherwise common in text messages.

Echols is using the hashtag #GASolarChat for his 30-minute discussion because the main topic is solar energy. It’s timed to allow citizen input on the commission’s vote every three years on Georgia Power Co.’s 20-year plan for generating electricity from various sources like coal, nuclear and natural gas.

“Solar seems to be gaining momentum here in Georgia surpassing other renewable sources of energy,” Echols said. “It seems like every week we have an announcement from a company or non-profit that they now have solar on their rooftop.”

Wednesday, Nestle Purina announced the installation of 1,900 solar panels on the roof of its Fairburn pet-food plant which will generate enough electricity to power 52 homes for a year.

Georgia Power has already included in its long-range plans the purchasing of solar power from multiple companies. One solar company, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., is hoping the commission will require much more. It’s also lobbying for legislation that would give it a monopoly for all the solar energy that Georgia Power’s customers want.

Georgia Solar is spreading the word about Echols’ Twitter discussion.

“We shared information about Commissioner Echols’ Solar Town Hall with our network so that they too could be part of the dialogue about the future of solar in our state,” said company executive Robert Green. “We hope that everyone concerned about our future energy needs lends the commissioner a hand to make it a success.”

For his part, Echols is already an old hand at social media.

“I am a social-media fanatic and use Twitter and Facebook throughout the day to communicate,” Echols said. “Doing a Twitter town hall forces me to communicate in small, 140-character sound bytes, and most people prefer to hear less, not more, from politicians.”

The discussion is Monday from 11:30-noon.


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