6 Questions for Georgia’s Public Service Commissioner Candidates

District 5: John Turpish (L)

John Turpish
John Turpish

Photograph courtesy of John Turpish Campaign

Libertarian John Turpish is a software developer and lives in Cobb County. This would be his first elected office.

1. Two new nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle are over-budget and years behind schedule. Should the project continue moving forward? Why?

No, with one caveat: if noncoercive financing can be secured, I would be relieved to see the project move forward.

What I am against is using the power of the state to establish a monopoly, protecting the utility from competition and price pressure, then using the freedom to raise prices to fund a capital expenditure with ratepayer’s money. The most obvious case of this is the nuclear construction cost recovery fee, which the Public Service Commission approved.

However, I’m very willing to allow people to put their own money on the line and assume the risks themselves of a project they believe in. And a nuclear power plant does serve a valuable purpose for Georgia, so I’d be happy to see that happen.

2. Should the Georgia General Assembly amend the Georgia Nuclear Financing Act to limit or prevent Georgia Power from profiting from subsequent project delays?

Yes, this is a no-brainer. Perverse incentives provide terrible results. It’s worth noting that perverse incentives like this, while not usually so obvious, are quite common in centrally-planned systems.

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?

The most obvious low-hanging fruit is ending subsidies for technologies that pose a threat to others. I understand there is some disagreement about how certain we are of the threat from carbon emissions, but we should all agree that carbon-free technologies are preferable, all else being equal. We should be wary of any coercive incentives for any investment, but at the least let’s remove it from those that represent a potential threat.

There’s also issues with insisting on consistent, fair pricing from the monopoly utilities for connection costs and buyback for smaller-scale installations and power-generating startups. One of the most important measures of the health of a market is the barriers to entrants.

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?

There’s two primary changes I want to see in the IRP process. First I’d like to see a policy of allowing customers to specify their energy source preferences. There’s a number of ways of doing this, but since electricity is a fungible commodity they’re all fairly easy—a matter of accounting. Besides the direct incentives this injects into the system, it provides a valuable feedback from revealed preferences to enhance future IRPs.

The other significant change I’d like is to consider a wider array of factors taken into account when evaluating a power source. Certainly it’s true that capital investment, tax revenue, and operational costs are important. Why not also evaluate land use? Water use?
The health and life expectancy of the workers? Carbon emissions? Quality-of-life issues, including some indirect matters? We should get closer to an approach where if it matters to some Georgians, it matters to the assessment, and thus closer to emulating a market.

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?

No one factor should be independently determinant.

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 public service commissioner’s role, duties, and decisions?

The blogs were a good idea and could be kept more up-to-date. The audio recordings were a good idea and could be done in a more timely fashion. The livestreaming was a good idea. Some commissioners do a better job than others of engaging with the public in the media and via social networking.

But ultimately, the responsibility will as always fall on the public to be ever vigilant. I’m not just a candidate, I’m also a voter, so I share in that responsibility.