Dear <<First Name>>,

For weeks I’ve struggled with this topic of what to say about my opponent in the area of consumer protections. He has done so much wrong, both by commission and omission, and the failures of the Ga PSC are so damaging that to capture it all requires more of a blog than an email. Should I cut the list short to fit this platform? Or should I report it all, but in two parts? And furthermore, does my writing about this just make me look bad - a candidate who is trying to cut my opponent down to make my “elect me” case?

The truth is that the the length of this list is the reason for my campaign. If it were shorter or if these were normal failures of elected officials then I would not be in this campaign. I have never aspired to public office. I am only in this campaign because of the failures on this list. And people can decide for themselves if I am trying to get myself elected through exaggerating my opponent’s flaws or if the issues are as bad as I say they are.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing describes someone who appears to be harmless or kind but is actually dangerous. Their behavior does not display their true character. That is a perfect description of my opponent Tim Echols.

Let’s get to it. Part 1.

Echols’ website claims he is a “watchdog for Georgia families”. Let’s see if that’s true. First, let’s talk about how Echols protected Georgia families during the COVID economic shutdown in 2020.

Ms. McClain’s quote was in the Savannah News (click each image above to launch two different articles) after she learned about Echols’ vote to allow Georgia Power to resume disconnections during the early days of COVID. The Ga PSC was the first state commission to allow its monopoly utility to resume disconnections for failure to pay, harming hundreds of thousands of Georgians in the middle of both a pandemic and a heat wave. Why did Echols not think of protecting Georgia Power customers from disconnections when they could not work and unemployment benefits had not yet begun? Click the audio button to hear for yourself.

Georgia Power is not a charity!”, said Tim Echols when asked what was the hurry to resume disconnections ahead of all other states.

Audio of Echols

Once the Ga PSC voted to end the moratorium Ga Power then went on to disconnect over 100,000 Georgia families from power during the early months of the pandemic.

Echols claims Georgia Power is not a charity, but what are they? They are a rich for-profit corporation whose stock trades on Wall Street. Because two of the three utilities owned by Southern Company are poorly regulated (GA and AL), Southern Company earns enormous profits - $3.5 billion in profits during 2022. These profits allow the President & CEO of Southern Company Tom Fanning to receive enormous executive compensation, often the highest in the country despite Georgia being in the bottom 10 states for wealth. It’s impossible to say that the Ga PSC is regulating in the public interest when they allow a monopoly utility to behave like a Robber Baron during America’s gilded age.

The far right column tells the story: $21.2 million + $22.3 million + $27.8 million = $71.3 million, an eye popping sum over 3 years.

Let’s put his executive compensation in context. See below - there’s our guy in first place of all utilities in the entire country. Appalling isn’t it? I could show you another appalling image of Mr. Fanning earning more than any Georgia Fortune 500 CEO, including Coca Cola, UPS, Home Depot, AFLAC, Delta - CEOs of companies operating in competitive and sometimes global markets. Why is a regulated monopoly supposedly operating in the public interest in the poorest region of the U.S. at the top of this list?

It’s because commissioners at the Ga PSC, especially Echols, do nothing to protect consumers from monopoly aggression and power - the very reason monopolies are illegal in the U.S. and the very reason state commissions are created by state legislators: to protect the public interest.

While Mr. Fanning was bringing in the big bucks, in early 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, Ms. McClain’s organization was one of over 30 nonprofits who worked with Southern Environmental Law Center to submit a letter to the Ga PSC, pleading with commissioners not end the disconnection moratorium, and if they did, to give consumers more protections. Click the image to see the letter. It is so compelling and well written it almost makes you cry. These groups were trying to head off the pain and death they knew that electricity disconnections during a pandemic would cause…research shows a 15% increased death rate of homes where power is cut off.

But the letter wasn’t compelling to Echols, who ignored the letter’s recommendations.

July is blisteringly hot in Georgia. It is life threatening. It is the worst possible month for someone’s power to be cut off. During this same summer over 40% of Georgians filed for unemployment because the economy was shut down, a number that would surely be higher if the Ga Dept. of Labor had been working but we now know their offices were closed and their computers were old.

Meanwhile, during that same timeframe Southern Company went to Washington and lobbied against a federal moratorium on shut-offs claiming that they were working with state commissions. Indeed they were: to resume disconnections. Southern Co. took tens of millions of CARES Act funding meant to avoid disconnections and never spent that money as intended. That neat hat trick landed Southern Company on the “Hall of Shame” from a nonprofit tracking utility moratoriums on disconnections. These are all areas Echols could have stood up for Georgia’s families but did not.

Now let’s look at rates. Has Echols been as a “Watchdog for Georgia’s families” when it comes to rate increases? During his 12 years in office he has never seen a rate increase he didn’t love. Under his watch, residential electric rates increased by a whopping 30%. This data is from the EIA (Energy Information Administration). The 28% is actually 30% since I don’t yet have 2022 data.

In that same 12 years Industrial rates went up - wait, what? Zero? Not even 1%? What in the world? It’s easy to know why, actually. Deep pocketed lobbyists are always at the commission. It doesn’t take long to recognize them if you hang there much at all. These and Southern Company lobbyists are very powerful and ubiquitous.

We see from the rate table above that industrials and the utility are well represented and get what they want. But who protects consumers from these lobbyists? There are PSC staff called “PIA” , or Public Interest Advocacy staff. They represent consumers. They do as good a job as they can, given that they work in the same building as their bosses and under their influence and direction.

47 other states see that as a problem and thus separate their consumer advocate’s office from the state commission’s office. Georgia did too until 2008. That’s when Governor Perdue defunded our Consumer Utility Council, something long sought by Georgia Power and finally achieved during the Great Recession when Georgia’s state budget shrank from the economic shut down.

When tax revenues bounced back that department was not funded again and eventually was repealed out of existence. Not a peep from Echols, our self-described watchdog. He was too busy penning anti-clean energy essays that I showed in my last email to lobby for this office.

The loss of this office remains devastating to the people of Georgia. Here are two short news stories which might give you a sense of that loss. Click on image to launch the story.

“The counsel disappeared in 2008 when the agency, created by the state legislature in 1975, was de-funded as part of state budget cuts ordered by Gov. Sonny Perdue. The move saved about $400,000. Since then, some say, ratepayers have lacked adequate representation in utility cases involving billions of dollars.

“That voice is just gone,” Hardy said. The effect, counsel supporters said, is higher bills for ratepayers.”

And this one:

Excerpt: “For consumers, there are no white vans, no armies of attorneys and, after a decision earlier this week, not even a small agency with a staff of three people to defend the little guy.”

Without a separate CUC there is only the PIA staff working to represent “the little guy”. And how is that going for us? Not well at all - our bills are the fifth highest in the country. I have documented that commissioners ignore PIA staff recommendations 99% of the time on substantive issues. When it counts, commissioners are out. Let’s see why a little of that. Watch a clip of Commissioner Echols as he fights off even modest attempts from another commissioner to rein in huge rate increases requested by Ga Power in December of 2019. Video is 1 minute 9 seconds.

Commissioner Tim Echols insists on high ROE

Echols’ reference to “what I heard in New York” is from his jaunt to Bank of America’s New York offices where he met with bond ratings’ agencies to find out what they needed from the Ga PSC to protect Southern’s stock and credit ratings from Plant Vogtle’s significant risks.

Echols behaved as though he was on the Southern Company board, flying to New York to ask Wall Street what it needed to protect the company. He then worked diligently protecting credit downgrades and stock impacts from the ongoing failures of Plant Vogtle by jacking up our rates, as these videos prove.

And he’s consistent. I just showed you what he did at the 2019 rate case in fighting off McDonald’s motion, which resulted in giving Georgia Power a larger rate increase than the next 10 utilities combined, at $2 billion. Echols did it again in 2022 -watch as Commissioner McDonald again tries to limit profits he knows are excessive. Echols will not give an inch. Video is 1 min 57 seconds.

Ga PSC generous earnings band

Because of the enormity of the profits about to be voted on, Commissioner McDonald tries yet again to rein in excessive profits. This time Echols is bored. Watch as he uses his phone rather than support the one commissioner trying to help Georgia’s families. Video is 1 min. 27 secs.

Ga PSC generous capital structure

McDonald’s efforts never persuades Echols who votes to give Ga Power profits much higher than any other utility in the nation, while Echols reads his phone. That’s why our bills are 5th highest.

So we know Echols was not a “Watchdog for Georgia’s families” during COVID; and we know Echols was not a Watchdog during the 2019 rate increase and not a watchdog during the 2022 rate increase (which I forgot to say was $2 billion again).

Has Tim Echols protected Georgia’s families from the fiasco that is Plant Vogtle? Plant Vogtle is the only nuclear power plant under construction in the United States, begun in 2009 and supposed to be completed in 2016. It is 2023 and still not done. It is going to cost Georgian’s dearly.

It is difficult to protect consumers from an industry that has your unqualified support, as nuclear does from Tim Echols. Tim Echols ignored the PIA staff (you know, the ones working to protect consumers out the commission’s offices) as seen from an open records request from a utility watchdog group, the Energy & Policy Institute. Click the link to read what happened.

As costs continue to spiral out of control, calls to the Ga PSC to put a cap on the project go unheeded. It is 7 years late and every month it’s late costs an enormous amount of money and delivers enormous profits for Georgia Power. Click to read this story from just last week:

Yet Echols does nothing to rein in costs, protect Georgia’s families, or do anything at all. Keep in mind Echols is not a Georgia Power customer. He “represents” 2.7 million Georgia Power customers while not being one himself. He lives in Jackson County, Georgia, which is served by Jackson EMC. He votes to raise our power bills. Not his.

In 2017 both internal PSC analysis and outside expert analysis determined that this plant should not continue - that it would be less expensive to abandon the plant and pursue alternatives than continue what would be a money pit. It’s the perfect example of the sunk cost fallacy which is an economic term that Echols must not believe in or know about. Continuing Plant Vogtle has been his biggest effort. He is its biggest cheerleader. Yet even now this project has no budget and no consumer protections from risk and cost overruns. It’s infuriating.

Six year years have gone by and just as predicted the plant is not done. Costs are an eye-popping $35.7 billion in direct costs and $37.9 billion when excessive ROE and earnings band profits that Commissioner McDonald tried to rein in are included. That much money is difficult for the human brain to digest. People have no idea what $40 billion really means. Know this: it means searing and painful electric bills for decades because that is an INSANE amount of money for carbon free energy that could have been produced in Georgia five times cheaper.

Meanwhile, Southern Company makes enormous profits extracting wealth from the people of Georgia from this project because the Ga PSC does nothing to protect us. Note the tiny yellow $9.4 billion in profits Southern has earned to date- this was calculated last October. It’s higher now.

That’s an incredible amount of profit already earned for a project that is a failure. Will it ever go live? Maybe. Probably not. Even if it does, it’s still a failure because the costs are so excessive.

This would never happen in a normal competitive business market. It’s only possible because of the Georgia Public Service Commission, because Echols and at least three other commissioners are not doing their jobs protecting people from this kind of monopoly abuse of power.

And the real crime? This energy was never needed. In 2008 Ga Power claimed Georgia’s energy demand would reach 105 million megawatt hours by 2018 to justify Plant Vogtle. It is 2023 and sales have still not reached that number - not even close, at only 84 million megawatt hours. Yes the commission does nothing to hold Ga Power accountable for wildly exaggerated claims of future growth that never happens but rewards them with huge profits.

This is all known in the energy industry. I used to feel embarrassed at energy conferences when meeting people. “Georgia, huh? Well you got it going down there don’t ya?” people would say euphemistically. In fact, one financial analyst, watching how the commission regulates Georgia Power, said the quiet part out loud. “Treat Southern Company stock like a government bond,” he said. “The commission does not hold the company accountable for management failures so the stock has little risk.” That’s a stunning statement. Where is our watchdog commissioner?

Tim Echols is the second longest serving commissioner on the commission. Who has served the longest? Commissioner McDonald whom Echols will not support to protect consumers.

Let’s end Part 1 by examining who Tim Echols takes money from, the gold standard of understanding how a politician votes. I’m sorry you can’t enlarge this to see all the regulated gas, railroad and telecom utilities Echols takes money from. It’s not online so I can’t link it but you can see the names circled in red. This list is even longer but I ran out of steam to keep going.

It is so disappointing to see the money Tim Echols takes from people working for the entities he regulates. It might be legal but it’s unseemly. It’s immoral.

You might be thinking, how can there be a part 2? Oh, but there is - there is the story of what he did to trigger my decision to try to unseat him, and another four big areas where Echols either takes an active part in harming Georgia families or where he does nothing to stop it.

Echols must be defeated. That’s my hope - the Ga PSC will not change if he is re-elected.

Whenever I think, voters are our only hope I remember this scene in Star Wars. It was a video message sent by Princess Leia into an unknown void hoping it would reach a noble and good man to help her end the evil empire.

That is my hope too - that we can band together to end an evil empire that should be controlled by state authorities but isn’t. Ga Power has built the most expensive plant ever built on earth and will ask the Ga PSC to require its customers to pay for $9 billion in cost overruns, or however much they are at the end. Echols will let them if he is in office. Georgians will be paying the most expensive power bills in the United States for decades. We can’t let that happen.

“Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi, You’re My Only Hope.”

“Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi, You’re My Only Hope.”