Mon., May 14, 2012 4:11pm (EDT)

Nuclear Expansion Overshadows Election
By Jeanne Bonner
Updated: 2 years ago

ATLANTA  —  
Two members of the state’s Public Service Commission are up for election this year. The race is one of the few statewide contests on the November ballot. And it has new relevance as the PSC monitors the nation’s first nuclear expansion in 30 years. Georgia Power is building two new reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta (in photo).
Two members of the state’s Public Service Commission are up for election this year. The race is one of the few statewide contests on the November ballot. And it has new relevance as the PSC monitors the nation’s first nuclear expansion in 30 years. Georgia Power is building two new reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta (in photo).
Two members of the state’s Public Service Commission are up for election this year. The race is one of the few statewide contests on the November ballot. And it has new relevance as the PSC monitors the nation’s first nuclear expansion in 30 years.

Stan Wise and Chuck Eaton are the two commissioners facing re-election this year.

So far only Eaton, a Republican, has opposition now two weeks before the qualifying date.

Steve Oppenheimer, an Atlanta Democrat, is one challenger. The retired dentist’s campaign has raised $100,000, with donations from prominent Democrats and others.

Oppenheimer says he wants to ensure the PSC protects the public’s interests. And he cites Georgia Power’s reports of $900 million in possible cost overruns at Plant Vogtle in east Georgia.

“I’m concerned whether once again those costs are simply going to be passed onto the ratepayer or whether the PSC is going to act in the public service of the ratepayers and look to get some accountability from the utility,” he said.

Tom Crawford, editor of The Georgia Report, says the potential cost overruns could get voters’ attention.

“There are a lot of things Georgia Power has done that have contributed to increases in power bills and that are going to maybe cause even more increases in power bills because of the Plant Vogtle cost overruns," he said. "And that’s the kind of issue that could make this an interesting race.”

But Crawford says it would require a dynamic, well-funded candidate to take advantage of the issue, and he says it's unclear if such a candidate has emerged. He said Oppenheimer has raised money from some key players but $100,000 probably wouldn't be enough to overcome the incumbent's inherent advantages.

Members of the five-person commission serve six-year terms.