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Jeff May Campaigns in Savannah in PSC Quest

By Lou Phelps

June 14, 2010 - Ask the average man on the street what the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) does, not to mention who is running for the Commission on the July 20 primary ballot, and you get a lot of blank stares.

Candidate Jeff May, a three-term Republican State Rep from Monroe, GA., was in Savannah last week, meeting with the press and campaigning for an open seat that is now in play because long-time PSC member Bobby Baker announced in late April that he was not going to seek re-election. Baker had served eighteen years on the PSC, the body that oversees all utility rates and consumer issues related to utility companies.

With the dramatic changes in U.S. energy policy potentially ahead, particularly in light of the Gulf oil spill disaster, who sits on the PSC is more important than normal. And, Baker was considered an advocate for consumers, as well as a long-time adversary of the Georgia Power Company.

Neither May nor any of the other candidates have any level of name recognition across the state, meaning the race is still wide open. And alphabetically, May will be the last name on the ballot. But his campaign is being guided by Dave Simons of the political consulting firm Simons & Associates, who believes that May is the frontrunner.

May is a small business owner -- very small -- operating a small computer networking and repair company in Monroe, Computronics, a business that he launched when he was in his early 20’s in 1993. His wife is a public school teacher.

He’s walking away from a safe seat in the Georgia House serving Walker County, a seat where he had no opponents in his re-election bid in 2008, and raised only about $25,000 in total as there was virtually no campaign. His lack of fundraising history makes analysis of who has contributed to his campaigns difficult. And he had no announced opponents from either party for November 2010.

But, being a State Rep pays only $17,000 a year, and requires extensive time away from home, says May. The seat on the PSC pays $117,000 a year and includes a car, a significant financial improvement for his family, which May acknowledges was a consideration in seeking the seat which is a six-year term of office.

He also believes that he is the most qualified candidate of the four Republicans in the July 20 primary, due to his years in the Georgia General Assembly, serving as the Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee of Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications Committee

May faces Tim Echols, a political advisor to Gubernatorial candidate John Oxendine,
B. Joseph “Joey” Brush and John Douglas, a retired military officer, in the Republican primary

He also comes with heavy Republican credentials, as the current Vice Chairman of the Majority House Republican Caucus in the Georgia General Assembly, and a long time close ally of Glenn Richardson.

As to his positions, he supports offshore drilling. Despite the environment and financial tragedy that continues to unfold in the Gulf, May stated last week that he is in support of exploring offshore oil exploration along Georgia’s Coast. “We don’t know what’s out there, Even if don’t use it, we should at least know what’s out there…there are a lot of royalty monies and it would create jobs for Georgians,” he states.

“If there is oil that is accessible and environmentally sound, I support drilling. We live in the greatest country in the world, and we are the most technologically advanced, and I think we can solve the deep water drilling issues,” he believes.

His platform includes support for affordable energy, investment in energy infrastructure, expansion of nuclear power and LNG facilities, and maintaining Georgia's position as having rates among the lowest in the country, and opposition to federal policies “pushed by Washington liberals that raise rates for Georgia consumers,” he adds.

According to May, the PSC is mandated by law to strike a balance between the desire of ratepayers to keep utility rates low and the interests of utility shareholders to earn a fair return on their investment. The PSC can impact utility bills by making sure basic service rates are justified and fuel costs are kept as low as possible. The vast majority of a gas or electric utility bill is consumption, which is driven by use and the cost of the fuel itself.

While fuel costs are not directly controlled by the PSC, the Commission can influence long-term costs through its responsibility over energy planning, he explains.

When asked about his views on the potential for wind energy, May said that his understanding is that it is not viable for Georgia, but admits that he has more to learn about the alternative energy source.

He believes that Georgia needs to expand its reliance on nuclear energy “to greater than 20 percent of our energy mix. We need to support more natural gas exploration and expand Georgia's LNG facilities to allow for more production and importation. Last, we can increase our use of renewable energy by investing in research that will deliver the best way to use our vast timber resources in biomass generation, a practice that will grow industry and jobs.”

He also believes “that global warming is junk science at best,” he said last week, repeating his belief that “the carbon tax proposed could cost Georgia families some $3,000 a year in higher utility bills, goods and services without having any clear impact on climate change.” When asked to explain how he arrived at that price tag, as much as three times greater than the annual utility bills of the average Georgia household, he said that the number is coming from “national reports.”

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering classifying coal generation residuals as Hazardous. Changing the designation of coal ash from non-hazardous will significantly increase disposal costs for Georgia ratepayers. As your next Public Service Commissioner, I will urge the EPA to enhance protection in surface impoundments without forcing disposal into expensive hazardous landfills,” he added.

 

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