My home state was the epicenter of the 2020 political earthquake. The two Senate races on January 5th determined the leadership balance of the United States Senate. While runoffs are often viewed as “Meh” to many voters, data suggested that turnout was strong. However, there was another Georgia runoff race on the same ballot that flew under the radar for many voters and the media. It was for a seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission. What is that anyhow?
Before answering that question, I should mention that Democratic candidate Daniel Blackman was in the Georgia District 4 runoff against incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonld, a Republican who ultimately prevailed. There are other outlets and resources that you can read to find out about the politics, but I am not interested in that stuff. My goal herein is to simply explain what a Public Service Commission is and how it is relevant in climate change discussions.
According to Ballotpedia, the Georgia Public Service Commission is, “a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative state body responsible for regulating Georgia’s public utilities — that is, electric, gas, telecommunications and transportation firms.” In some states, similar commissions also regulate sewer or water providers but not in Georgia. Georgia’s Commission is comprised of five elected Commissioners who served six-year, staggered terms.
Energy is at the very core of the climate change solutions discussion. A 2016 Columbia Law School Report said that the roles of these types of commissions will continue to evolve, “as technologies change and as the impacts of climate change alter the context in which the electric grid operates.” Much of the discourse and politicized nature of climate change discussions are fundamentally rooted in the solution space and energy economy. The science has emerged to a fairly strong consensus. Public service commission-type organizations have significant influence on the energy portfolio (traditional fossil-fuel based, nuclear, and renewables) within jurisdictions.
I wrote this “101” because very smart people in my own family asked, “What does a Public Service Commissioner do? If you had this same question, hopefully this little read has inched closer to an answer for you.