ATLANTA — In back-to-back debates Sunday, challengers for two seats on the Public Service Commission fired accusations about customer rates, nuclear costs and ethics, but only one incumbent was there to defend himself.
For seat 5, Republican incumbent Stan Wise issued a statement afterward explaining that he boycotted the event because the Atlanta Press Club, which sponsored the forum, represented him with an empty lectern in a similar debate when eye surgery left him unable to participate.
“Rather than recognize what should have been an excusable medical absence, these journalists attempted to embarrass my campaign by placing an empty podium on stage,” he said, adding that he also objected to one of the journalists on the panel who didn’t report negative news about his primary opponent.
So, he wasn’t able to defend himself when his general election challenger, Libertarian David Staples, attacked.
“Do you honestly believe that voters are actually OK with your sleeping during hearings, reading newspapers during hearings, accepting $14,000 in lobbyists’ gifts, accepting 96 percent of your campaign contributions from attorneys, executives and lobbyists of utilities you’re charged with regulating, and do you believe that it’s OK having utility lobbyists actively campaigning for you, namely Mr. Michael Shawn Davis?” Staples asked when the format allowed him to question the absent Wise.
Staples noted that Wise has broken no law, but that the activities would stop if a better man were elected.
In the debate for seat 3, GOP incumbent Chuck Eaton denied opponents’ accusations that he is too cozy with the companies he regulates.
“I’ve never granted Georgia Power Co. any of the rate increases they’ve requested,” he said, adding that he voted only for pared-down rate hikes.
Democrat Steve Oppenheimer said electricity rates had risen 24 percent during Eaton’s six-year term and that residential rates for natural gas were among the highest in the continental United States.
Eaton blamed federal regulations for half the expense of the latest electric rate increase, but Oppenheimer didn’t agree.
“Rates are increasing because you voted 10 times to put on higher rates,” he said. “It’s not because of the EPA.”
Libertarian Brad Ploeger criticized Eaton for opposing a “risk-sharing” plan that would have reduced the allowable profit Georgia Power could earn on its expansion of Plant Vogtle if construction of two reactors goes over budget. Eaton dismissed that plan as a gimmick that would weaken the commission’s authority to prohibit the company from earning any profits on construction waste.
“We’re talking about experimental, nuclear reactors that have never been built in the United States,” Ploeger said. “Right now, all risk is on the ratepayers. The investors are guaranteed to make a profit. I don’t think that’s the best thing for the ratepayers of Georgia.”