APN Interview with PSC District 4 Candidate, Daniel Blackman, Democrat
(APN) ATLANTA — The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) has two seats up for election this year, including District 4, currently held by Lauren “Bubba” McDonald; and District 1, held by Doug Everett, both Republicans.
The General Election contest for District 4 is a three-way race, including Daniel Blackman, the Democratic nominee; McDonald, the Republican nominee; and Robin Gilmer, the Libertarian nominee.
McDonald has been a strong supporter of Georgia Power, nuclear power, and the big energy industries.
Blackman has attended several PSC meetings as a citizen advocate, where he typically sits with and aligns himself with environmentalists and consumers. He also has extensive experience in the policy development arena.
Blackman was appointed by the Chairman of the National Wildlife Federation to serve on an Environmental Policy Commission co-sponsored by Congressional members to address climate change, renewable energy, utility issues, and how people of color disproportionately experienced negative outcomes associated with their physical environment, according to Blackman’s website.
Blackman has helped to advance some of America’s most distinguished agencies and organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Green Building Council, the Georgia Conservancy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Energy, and City of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability; and was appointed by retired Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears to the Georgia Supreme Court Commission on Children, Marriage, and Family Law according to Blackman’s website.
Blackman participated in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News, and his response were as follows:
As previously reported by APN, solar and wind power comprise a very small proportion of Georgia’s total statewide energy mix. That proportion has grown slightly in recent years, from miniscule to still very small.
In 2012, Georgia Power voluntarily agreed to an Advanced Solar Initiative proposed by PSC Commissioner Chuck Eaton (District 3), which added an additional 210 MW of solar energy to the company’s then-current 61.5 MW. This had tripled their investment in solar energy, but was still less than one percent of the their total energy portfolio.
An amendment by Commissioner McDonald that passed in 2013 will expand the solar energy component of Georgia Power’s energy mix, by one percent, to a total of 1.5 percent by 2017.
When APN asked Blackman for his thoughts on the McDonald amendment, he said, “It’s a step in the right direction but not enough. When the 525 of the solar program came up, people wanted a mandate. I attended the hearings. Georgia Power did not have solar in the mix at that time… there is a tremendous amount more that can be done today. It’s a great start, but not enough.”
“We need to look into renewables now. We have one coal plant [in Georgia] that spews twenty one million tons of carbon into atmosphere… that’s more than the entire state of Maine,” Blackman said.
“I think if we were able to put together a partnership with Georgia Power and ratepayers… there’s a demand for it. For instance, a checkbox on the [ratepayers’] bills, if they would prefer solar… let’s measure where people are. Right now there’s no conversation. We have utilities on one end and environmental groups on the other. There’s no common ground,” Blackman said.
“States like Minnesota are building a coalition with business, utility companies, and people. We have to do a better job at bringing everyone together… a serious conversation. Georgia ranks seventh as far as potential,” he said.
“We need to do a better job with the solar industry, holding Georgia accountable. National studies have shown that Georgia is a great place to have solar. They don’t want to have a conversation. Nuclear is the main focus and that’s not a good situation. Georgia Tech is leading the work on solar. We need to get academics involved and, as well as economists and environmentalists. I’ll do my part as an advocate to go outside of Atlanta and other counties and outside of Georgia to D.C.,” he said.
DO SUPPORT OR OPPOSE NUCLEAR POWER?
I oppose it. We over-invested in nuclear and under-invested in renewables. Less than one percent comes from renewables. Nationally we’ve got to do a better job. There has not been a genuine conversation about how to achieve renewable goals.
I understand that nuclear power contributes very little to global warming emissions. However, I am fully aware of the added risks to human health, the environment, and global security that nuclear power creates, as well as the nuclear industry’s failure to show that it can operate cost-effectively without the help of government subsidies; and as long as nuclear power remains part of our energy mix here in Georgia, the Public Service Commission should hold utilities accountable to make it safer.
My certified National Incident Management System training gives me a proactive approach to collaboratively work with all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to manage incidents involving threats and hazards—regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity—in order to reduce loss of life, property and harm to the environment. Knowing this, the safety and security risks of nuclear power should be a priority of ours in Georgia.
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON NATURAL GAS?
Natural gas, similar to my stance on nuclear. The cost and the planning risk are the issues. Natural gas has a lower risk than nuclear and coal. When you talk about fracking, I believe Georgia has tried to do the right thing around it, but we’re going in the wrong direction. The risks associated around gas are the prices. We’re having a lot of conversations about natural gas and nuclear. And we’re not talking about renewables. Operating costs change dramatically for natural gas. We need more renewables! How are we integrating renewables into our mix? Our only options we have now are coal, natural gas, and nuclear. These options need to change.
WHAT IS YOUR PLAN TO INCREASE SOLAR AND WIND ENERGY IN GEORGIA?
I think that Georgia is in a good position when we talk about solar. On the wind side we need some more research.
Our energy mix last year was 34 percent natural gas, 30 percent nuclear, and 30 percent coal. We’ve got to take a serious approach [to the mix]. What we’re not doing in Georgia is what I want, seven to ten percent of solar in ten to fifteen years.
The House Committee meeting was very anti-solar with nuclear being cheaper. Creating a marketplace for solar is key. I plan to work inside and outside the Public Service Commission. We have to do better jobs as Democrats to support it. I was one of the only statewide Democratic candidates to support solar.
It’s proven to create jobs and the cost has even gone down! I think we can pay for it, by attracting the right investors. We have over 300,000 kids suffering from asthma in Georgia. The time for solar is now.
WOULD THAT BE A TARGET FOR YOU OR A REQUIREMENT?
I’m committed to it. That’s the short answer. I am committed to expanding solar in Georgia. We need an information-share mechanism in place that talks about events around the state.
[As of 2013, 29 U.S. states had a renewable energy portfolio that included a mandate to achieve a target for renewable energy by a date certain. In recent years, Georgia has not had a single candidate–whether Democratic, Republican, or Libertarian–for PSC that has supported a mandate. For example, Steve Oppenheimer did not in 2012. Blackman has not changed that unfortunate pattern, in his interview with APN, declining to support a renewable mandate for Georgia.]
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON PLANT VOGTLE?
Safety is something we aren’t talking about… post-Fukushima. We have to talk about safety risks. The thought of a serious accident, not only large amounts of radiation… it could happen here and the consequences are disastrous… 30 million tons of waste at the Savannah River Site.
From a security standpoint… when you look at AP 100 reactors, these are the first of their kind. Sabotage is a real concern.
A hacker sent an email to high level people about Plant Vogtle plans. The email said ‘For more info on a random subjects click here.’ Three workers clicked on it and the plans to the plant immediately appeared. My concern is from a global perspective.
Terrorists groups are looking to damage our infrastructure, energy grid… these are questions we have to ask… we need to enforce the rules. If you live in Burke County, Georgia, they have a one page nuclear evacuation strategy. We need to do a better job at educating people.
I agree it’s a nightmare from start to finish. When you look at the construction right now over the last years, they always go over budget at least 200 percent. It’s two million [dollars] per day, if the construction is not done by 2017.
It is no secret that Georgia ratepayers are being charged an additional tax to finance the building of two nuclear plants and current costs overruns are estimated over one billion dollars, and our PSC has the duty of deciding if these cost overruns are prudent before the cost is passed onto the consumer.
They rushed it through. We knew it was going to be over-budget… we knew it would be passed down to ratepayers. We knew it. From the beginning the evidence was clear, it was flawed. It put us in a very bad position. Republicans say they are fiscally conservative and that’s not a fiscally conservative project. The loan guarantees in place are completely unfair.
OTHER CONCERNS AS A PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER?
Regarding wind power, we need more research in order to determine how much it will work in Georgia. The life cycle that has been omitted from natural gas argument is the hidden cost. Public health is a real concern. We’ve seen a lot of increased emissions in Georgia. We could be going in better direction.
You remember that the Consumer Utility Council, a group that was meant to represent ratepayers and provide oversight, was cut by former Gov. [Sonny] Perdue. That was the voice of the people. I’ll be thoughtful because I can’t work against Georgia Power, but what I will do is hold them accountable. I will let the public know what the decisions are and how we got there… offering advanced notice and information so they can be prepared. If you’re a senior citizen with a fixed income and that bill goes up and your fixed income hasn’t changed, that’s a real burden.
The Lifeline [phone service program] was put in during the Reagan Administration, which allowed low-income citizens and citizens living in extreme poverty, a phone line so they could call an emergency line for help, look for work, et cetera. Last year, Commissioners, including my opponent. added a fee to that. Georgia had four rate increases in four years. Georgia has been in the top ten foreclosures, unemployment, and mortgage fraud. The problemd we are facing now, and we are trying to add fees to people? This puts us in a very anti-consumer posture. When we increase rates and add fees, no consumer protections are in place. There is no mechanism in place on the cost-sharing side. Every single financial decision made, shareholders and utility companies are making a profit and ratepayers are bearing burden.
I support the President’s Carbon Plan, because our changing climate already threatens human health and welfare and economic stability, including its effects on our businesses and communities. We cannot measure “clean” by a single emission rate, especially when we are ignoring land and water impacts and ignoring any technology’s full lifecycle. Hard-working Georgians want an honest account of the true costs of electric generation technologies in as accurate a form as possible. As a Commissioner, regardless of the resource, it must meet the public requirements of affordability, reliability, adequate water availability, improved environmental protection, and enhanced public health, especially for our women and children.
Earlier in the year I was asked about my opponents taking utility-related companies’ campaign contributions. My stance is not to take money from any person or company that I would regulate. We should not accept those donations as it will damage the integrity of the Commission. Some Commissioners takes gifts and enjoy perks; that’s not good for the public trust. All my meetings will be reported and I will have an open door policy.