In this blog, we examine the policies and positions of Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, the Republican candidate running for District 4 on Georgia's Public Service Commission. Also in this series we profile Daniel Blackman, Democratic candidate for District 4 on Georgia's Public Service Commission. On November 3, 2020 neither candidate in this race secured the 50% of the vote necessary for victory under state law, and therefore this election is moving to a runoff on January 5, 2021.Jennifer Rennicks and Heather Pohnan | December 18, 2020
This post is part of a series of blogs examining where 2020 Southeastern candidates for state and federal offices stand on key energy and climate issues. Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools.
In this blog, we examine the policies and positions of Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, the Republican candidate running for District 4 on Georgia’s Public Service Commission. Also in this series we profile Daniel Blackman, the Democratic candidate in the same race. On November 3, 2020 neither candidate in this race secured the 50% of the vote necessary for victory under state law, and therefore this election is moving to a runoff on January 5, 2021.
While the exact roles and responsibilities of a Public Service Commissioner (or Public Utility Commissioner) vary from state to state, their general role is the regulation and oversight of essential utility services such as energy, telecommunications, and water. Some states, such as Georgia, elect the members of the Public Service Commission (PSC) while other states appoint their members through the Governor or the General Assembly.
McDonald earned a BBA in Business from the University of Georgia. McDonald was first appointed to the PSC in 1998 by Governor Zell Miller to fill a vacated post and then won a special election and served out the term from 1998 to 2002. He rejoined the Commission after being re-elected in 2008 and has served since. Before his time on the Commission, McDonald served 20 years in the Georgia House of Representatives. McDonald has also served on the Committee on Electricity of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and was the chair of the Subcommittee on Nuclear Issues and Waste Disposal.
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
McDonald has stated he is “very open to improvements in technology that are market-driven and clean,” when asked about solar. McDonald is a strong proponent of solar (including referring to himself as the godfather of Georgia solar) and has said, “As a result of my efforts over the past ten years with the support from my colleagues on the Georgia PSC, we have successfully added more than 1 gigawatt of solar energy to Georgia Power’s portfolio with an additional 1.6 gigawatts scheduled to come online by the end of 2021.” In terms of energy efficiency, the final stipulation in the most recent Georgia Power IRP required the company to increase energy efficiency savings 15% over the next three years on a motion from Commissioner McDonald.
McDonald acknowledged the importance of clean energy and clean air when he said: “Georgia has achieved some of the cleanest air in the nation through conservative principles and conservative leadership. I will continue to combine the megawatts of nuclear energy, decommission out-of-date coal facilities and increasing solar power in the state.”
Commissioner McDonald said, “Climate change is bigger than Georgia” when questioned about where he sees the effects of climate change in Georgia. During the same forum when asked about he would empower and enlighten younger voters about the impact of climate change, Commissioner McDonald pointed to utility resource plans as an educational tool and added that, “We have to look at the science and we have to modify our position in generation so that it will match a plan for the state of Georgia. We can’t help what China’s doing belching out carbon dioxide on a daily basis.”
During an October 2020 debate, Commissioner McDonald highlighted Georgia Power’s most recent rate case, where the PSC approved cost recovery for $6 million to expand electric vehicle infrastructure. He characterized accelerating the use of electric vehicles as “the future,” but added that “it’s not here yet and it’s expensive infrastructure to put in.”
Energy Equity and Energy Burden
We were unable to confirm the candidate’s position on this energy-related issue in published media, public records, or the campaign website.
High-Risk Energy (Coal, Nuclear, Oil, Gas)
McDonald is a consistent supporter of nuclear energy, calling it the “best friend” and “best partner” for solar. He has consistently voted in favor of continuing construction of Plant Vogtle’s Units Three and Four. When asked about nuclear, he said “…to me, it’s foolproof. It’s amazing… nuclear has got to expand.” McDonald has supported solar over fracked gas: “Fuel from the sun is free, natural gas is a commodity.”
In relation to coal, while serving on the PSC, McDonald voted with the rest of the Commission to approve the retirement of five older coal-burning units. McDonald pointed to the Commission’s record of decommissioning coal plants during the past eight years, but noted that it’s “not necessarily because we don’t like coal, it’s the fact that they’re worn out, they’re tired, they’re not economically retrofittable to go with combined cycle natural gas…so we’ve moved in other directions. That’s with our nuclear program.”
If you are interested in learning more about where your state’s candidates for federal and state office stand on energy, click here to access the entire 2020 blog series. The voter registration deadline for the U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia is December 7 and early voting begins December 14, 2020. Election Day for all runoff elections is January 5, 2021. For voting information in Georgia, including updates about the impact of COVID-19 on voting, click here.
This blog was researched and co-written by Suzanne Hollis, a rising junior at the University of North Carolina studying environmental science quantitative energy systems and physics. Suzanne is from Atlanta, Georgia and is a summer intern with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.