District 3: Chuck Eaton (R)
Republican Chuck Eaton was first elected to the Public Service Commission in 2006. Before joining the commission, he worked in real estate sales.
1. Two new nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle are over-budget and years behind schedule. Should the project continue moving forward? Why?
I commend the utility partners on their recent unanimous decisions to move forward with the project. Georgia’s diverse energy mix is foundational to our economic success and will be for generations to come. Vogtle is part of our state’s long-range fuel mix strategy and as a 60-year asset will provide reliable, affordable, zero-carbon energy for Georgia consumers into the foreseeable future. Diversity in generation is essential in ensuring our electric rates continue to remain competitive. We need carbon-free nuclear to act as a hedge against potential, future carbon restrictions.
The public service commissioner has an ongoing process of reviewing Vogtle costs every six month and ensuring only prudently incurred expenses are recovered in rates. Consumer interest is central to the biannual reviews the Commission and independent monitor have undertaken since the project began.
2. Should the Georgia General Assembly amend the Georgia Nuclear Financing Act to limit or prevent Georgia Power from profiting from subsequent project delays?
It was amended last legislative session to address future nuclear units. The public service commissioner makes sure only prudently incurred costs are born by Georgia’s energy consumers. During the latest Vogtle cost overrun, none of it is being paid by ratepayers— it’s all being shouldered by the company’s shareholders.
3. How can the Georgia Public Service Commission encourage investment in, and adoption of, clean energy like solar, wind, and other renewable, zero- to low-carbon resources?
Georgia is among the top 10 fastest growing solar states and has seen a thirteen-fold increase in solar power capacity in the past five years. I am honored to have helped shepherd this policy shift to add significantly more renewables into our energy mix. And I am equally proud that we have done so without putting upward pressure on consumer rates by avoiding mandates and encouraging robust competition among providers. I have also voted to approve the addition of wind resources from Oklahoma that has further brought zero-carbon energy into our mix. I have driven an electric car for seven years, and I try my best to encourage renewable energy on a personal level.
4. Next year the public service commissioner will adopt Georgia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan. What will you be looking for from the utility in its plan?
I want to see a continued diversification of our fuel mix, as well as wise energy efficiency programs to help struggling Georgia families with their energy bills. Across my tenure on the Commission we have witnessed a significant shift away from coal generations to cleaner and more efficient forms of energy production. I want to see that trend advance, with a continued focus on level energy costs and ever-improving reliability. Lastly, I hope to see more innovation on the how consumers can get the most out of their energy expenditures.
5. Should cost be the determining factor in determining what energy sources that utilities use, or should goals like cleaner air and reduced carbon emissions?
Reliability is the most important dimension of our regulatory lens. Without near-perfect reliability, consumers and businesses suffer and economic expansion stalls.
After reliability, the impact of energy bills on a consumer’s household or business budgets follows closely behind. With the advent of natural gas fracking and falling renewable energy prices, there has been a precipitous decrease in emissions across our state. All these factors roll into the balanced decision-making I must make as a commissioner, and I am proud that the average Georgia family’s electricity bill is less today than it was seven years ago. Having a diverse fuel mix and zero-emission nuclear power has helped Georgia keep rates and bills low without sacrificing reliability. Forward looking, I think renewables and battery storage technologies will continue to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels with resulting environmental improvements.
6. The Georgia Public Service Commission is one of the most impactful yet overlooked state agencies. What can commissioners do to increase awareness about the PSC’s role, duties, and decisions?
I have traveled the state as a commissioner and have met individually with families and labor heads, craftworkers, and local leaders. I have toured skills-training facilities and power plants and have been involved in countless forums around energy policy. I continually strive to have full public participation by citizens at our scheduled hearings, and we always see crowds in our meeting rooms. I personally have expanded my social media activities to engage a broader audience to our important issues. Energy touches everyone and animates all aspects of our economy. I believe with smart homes and electric vehicles becoming more commonplace, and options for more consumer control of energy usage becoming the norm, we will continue to see growing awareness of the roles the public service commissioner plays in the lives of Georgia families.