North GA Blue: Getting into Good Trouble

Patty Durand, Democratic Candidate for GA Public Service Commission (PSC)

August 25, 2021 Fannin Co. GA Democratic Party Season 1 Episode 16
North GA Blue: Getting into Good Trouble
Patty Durand, Democratic Candidate for GA Public Service Commission (PSC)
Show Notes Transcript

The North GA Blue: Getting into Good Trouble podcast covers democratic politics in North GA, the 9th Congressional District, and across the state of Georgia. The podcast is in Q&A/Interview format with various democratic politicos including county chairs, democratic operatives, politicians, and more. It is our mission to deliver crucial information to our listeners in a timely manner as we fight for community values and principles in the 3rd most Conservative district in the state. Our website is: https://www.fcdpga.com/podcasts

Our guests highlight democratic activities and actions to work toward a Blue Georgia. The 9th Congressional District spans 20 counties across the region and covers a good deal of northern GA including Blue Ridge, Morganton, Fannin, Union, Banks, Athens/Clarke, Dawson, Elbert, Forsyth, Franklin, Gilmer, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Jackson, Lumpkin, Madison, Pickens, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, and White counties. 

Our democratic party podcast also disseminates information and interviews powerful Democrats across the state of GA who are working to overthrow the suppression tactics of the GOP and ensure democracy and our values, grassroots efforts, and goals remain intact. 

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Meral Clarke:

Hello, and welcome back to the North Georgia Blue Podcast produced and distributed by the Fannin County Democratic Party. I'm your host Meral Clarke. And we're getting into some good trouble today with our special guest, Patty Durand, the Democratic candidate for Georgia's Public Service Commission. Welcome to the show. Patty. We're happy to have you with us today.

Patty Durand:

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Meral Clarke:

Wonderful. Well, you've stated that utilities are a monopoly granted by the people of Georgia through their state legislature in exchange for having no competition and a guaranteed profit. The utility agrees to serve the public interest as determined by the public service commission or PSC Patti's candidacy seeks to help voters understand that this commission has not been looking out for their interests in a long while, and she plans to change that before running for office. Patty was president and CEO of the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative and has a background in energy and technology. Patty also has an MBA from the College of William and Mary and has been living in Georgia for over 26 years and is a current resident of Peachtree Corners. So Patty, I don't think many of our listeners may be aware of this. But what does the Georgia Public Service Commission do? And why should we care?

Patty Durand:

Sure. So the Georgia Public Service Commission regulates electricity and telecommunications and natural gas and a few other things. All of those are big roles. But the biggest electricity provider that they regulate is Georgia Power, which is the largest utility in the state in terms of customers, and in terms of electricity sales. And although there is some regulation they do for electric membership cooperatives and municipal electricity companies, those are much smaller responsibilities, like reviewing financial reports and reviewing the territory that they serve. But for Georgia Power, the commission regulates how much they charge, and how much profit they make, and what their investments are, what their generation capacity is, their new build projects, and a whole host of other things. And they also have a very big responsibility for their natural gas in the state where many people have natural gas. And the commission regulates the commission regulates a lot of natural gas as an energy source. It's different from electricity, as you would expect. And what I'd like to say in terms of why people care is that energy is a very important and expensive part of most people's lives. Some of us that work in the energy space, in the regulatory area, like to say the Commission is the most important state agency that you've never heard of. It's named, it's confusingly, many states call it a Public Utility Commission. And then you know, immediately what it does, but in Georgia, it's called Public Service Commission. And so that hides their responsibilities and that name that works service, but an energy of all the commodities and the things that we buy, maybe food is more important, but energy is maybe second only to food in terms of how well we survive, and whether or not we survive, because in many cases, we won't survive without a warm home when it's cold, or a cool home when it's hot, and with life saving equipment that many people need to thrive and survive. So energy is probably the most important thing right after food. And that's why people should care.

Meral Clarke:

Yes, absolutely. So what makes you uniquely qualified for this position on the commission?

Patty Durand:

Well, I feel like my whole career and my whole life choices have led to this moment because I started out in business, I wanted to work in what I thought was a dynamic field where I would always be learning and doing something new and really find a lot of interest. So that's why I got an MBA Master's in Business because I wanted to understand accounting and finance and marketing and every component of business. And I worked in business for quite a while I worked in information technology. And then after a while, I started becoming more and more interested in what was happening the community in which I lived. So I left business, I took a lot of skills with me and started a career managing nonprofits, which was actually a track in Business School. It's a whole sub study, actually, at that time. I didn't know It would be something I was interested in. But it was a requirement. So I knew a little bit about it from college. And then my interest really took off then I worked for a green space nonprofit, I work for environmental nonprofit. And then I went to Georgia Tech, when I found out about grid modernization, which I thought it would be a super exciting field, combining technology and business and the environment. And then that was only for a year. And the position I ended up with for the last 10 years opened up, which was president and CEO of the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative. And that nonprofit studied consumers and their interests and awareness and technology and energy. So it was amazingly well positioned for my skills and interest. It was almost like a dream job that just fell in my lap. And I couldn't believe it. And I had exactly what they wanted. And so I took that nonprofit from the startup that it was when I was hired 10 years ago and brought it to a very well respected and important nonprofit in the energy space. And we did a lot of marketing materials, research studies about consumers, what do they want? What do they know? What do they think, who's out there when it comes to energy. And then we also did a lot of educational work directly with consumers with websites, newsletters, we had a whole social media program with Twitter and Instagram, and Facebook. And then we also had infographics and just every possible way to educate consumers around energy, which is a very dynamic and changing field, especially with the internet here now making consumers a lot more empowered and engaged around energy. So all that to say that I understand energy very well and understand consumers very well. And I think that perfectly positions me for a commission seat.

Meral Clarke:

Fantastic. And we appreciate your work. Thank you. So was there a specific reason or event that caused you to run for office? What happened?

Patty Durand:

Well, for a long time, I think since at least 2009, the Commission has been filled with all Republicans, mostly all white male Republicans, because it is very difficult for a woman or person of color, or an LGBT or progressive or democrat or anybody outside of the white male position to get elected, partly because of the way commission is organized around districts where candidates have to live in a district. But that vote is statewide. So anybody can vote for any candidate in any district, but they don't think they can or is confusing to people. And even now, I'm asked by friends and family who I've explained this to but then continue to struggle with can they vote for me? I don't live in Atlanta. Can someone in Atlanta vote for me? And it's confusing. And that's part of the reason why it's been difficult for anybody outside of the normative republican to win. And the thing that really made me decide to run was in the energy space, I often went to energy conferences, and people would often come up to me and chuckle or cackle at maybe from Georgia. And they'll say things like, wow, Georgia, you know, you guys, and they wouldn't really need to finish saying what they meant I knew what they meant. And I knew I knew what they meant, which is we're not doing a lot of the things that many other states are doing to reduce costs and engage consumers and take advantage of the technology changes and great things that are happening in the energy space. And then one of the most frustrating things that happened was in 2019, when the commission authorized Georgia Power to default customers, which means automatically enroll customers onto a rate plan that is a lot more expensive for customers called a demand charge rate plan. They authorize Georgia Power to default customers onto that rate plan, which charges customers a higher monthly fee called a demand charge without studying the impact that rate plan would have on customers, which is just unheard of like, in my 10 years, and the work I did was national scope. It was not Georgia specific. I could not imagine a commission passing any kind of rate plan without studying how it's going to impact customers. That's what Georgia did. And this particular rate plan is only for new construction, not for current customers, but when someone moves into a new building or a new house, then they call to connect service for the first time. Georgia Power can probably is defaulting customers onto this rate plan which charges them 30 to 40% more per month. And the fee that I mentioned to you the demand charge fee is hidden from the customer is not visible on the bill. The words demand charge are not there, they can go online and try to look at their data online, which is available to Georgia Power customers, but not for them. It just seemed morally wrong and disrespectful. So that was the decision. When that happened, I realized that it was time for a new voice on a commission, it was time for someone that would respect consumers and care about them, and not make changes that would harm them without even doing a study to understand how this change would harm them. That was appalling to me.

Meral Clarke:

So your point is that other states do these studies, but Georgia does not. Yes. And has Georgia ever done a study through the PSC?

Patty Durand:

Georgia does studies, I can't say that they've never done one for this particular rate plan, they have not done one for this change they've made to the rate, this is not a new rate plan. The demand charge rate plan has been out there I think since 2014, but it was voluntary. And so very, very few people signed up for it. And part of the reason it was even on my radar is that someone from the Public Service Commission staff knew that the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative had done a study on rate plans, and what consumers want and what they know. And that this particular kind of rate plan showed poorly in the study that consumers didn't want it. There are a lot of rate plants that consumers would want that are different from the ones we're on now, which is basically a flat rate price. There's some there's some exceptions, but it's basically a flat rate price. And consumers are interested in timings, pricing, or variable peak rebates mean, there are a lot of different options to better reflect the cost of service or to help customers save money or to engage consumers in ways that benefit them. So we studied all of that there are really very few rate plans that consumers were opposed to and the demand charge was one of them. And the commission staff knew that and she invited me in to present that research to the commission, which I did do. And that's how I knew this was happening, otherwise, I wouldn't have known and of course, they passed it anyway. And that's when I was like, are you

Meral Clarke:

typical?

Patty Durand:

Well, let me at least get the study because maybe I'm wrong. And maybe there's a study I don't know about and then when I inquired, I was told there was not a study online. So I was like, wow, okay,

Meral Clarke:

That is disturbing.

Patty Durand:

Then I started looking into everything else that happened that year 2019, a lot of changes were made. And the more I looked, the more I was very disturbed.

Meral Clarke:

I don't blame you. And thank you for taking that up. One of our listeners wanted to ask that you share stats on your website and stats that state Georgia has the fifth highest electricity rates in the nation and that electricity rates in Georgia have risen 20% in the last 10 years, while inflation has kept pace. What should electricity prices do compared to the overall inflation rate in your estimation?

Patty Durand:

Sure. So I want to correct one thing, Georgia has the fifth highest electricity bills in the nation, not rates. Okay, so people pay bills, they don't pay rates, And so part of that reason is that Georgians

Meral Clarke:

you're right. use more electricity, so the bills are higher. That's not the complete reason. Some of the other components that go into it are that there are a lot of riders and extra charges on the bills. And unlike many, many states that I studied in my career, there are very few programs for consumers to to help them save money, like energy efficiency investments, where a lot of housing stock, especially for people of color and rural people are very poorly constructed. And so people are spending a lot of money to heat or cool their home. And a lot of it is just leaking out of unsealed windows or poorly fitted doors or just not good insulation. And in many states will offer rebates or cost sharing. And Georgia ranks in the bottom 10 in terms of energy efficiency spending, according to ACEEE, which is a nonprofit that studies and advocates for energy efficiency to reduce waste and cost. And so there's that that's missing here. There's demand response, which is a program that many states offer consumers to help them save money by shifting usage away from expensive times of the day. And then they get a lower rate elsewhere that exists but in very old fashioned way, where it's almost the same as not bothering it's very poorly done here. Right. And there are others too. So those are the reasons the bills are high. And then Georgia also has a cost of living much lower than the rest of the country. You know, the southeast generally is a lot less expensive to live here. That's why so many people live here, move here, but the rates are not 30 to 50% below the .... I think it's more like 20 to 20 to 30 lower cost of living but the rates are just about the average. So there's already something wrong, that our rates are average. And there's something else wrong, that our bills are so high. And so what do I think? I think that the Commission has not done a good job protecting consumers and encouraging the utilities, Georgia Power particular, to offer programs that help consumers save money, or to offer require them to invest a reasonable amount of energy efficiency spending, which there is some spending, but it's very tiny. So as a result, we're paying a lot more for energy than we should be. And that's why our bills are coming in the high rankings that they are, What is Georgia Power? What are we doing about solar energy? Are they doing anything? What's Georgia Power doing?

Patty Durand:

So Georgia Power, again, it all comes through the commission, it's what the commission allows them to do requires them to do. And right now the commission originally required them to but I think Georgia Power is very willing. In terms of utility scale solar, there are two main types of solar, which are big solar farms, that the utility can install themselves and use for generation, or that businesses can install and offset their bills. And there is a little of both going on in state. It's pretty low, though, compared to neighbors like North Carolina, which is North Carolina has 20% of their generation next coming from renewables, whereas Georgia has less than 10. And half of biomass, which I don't consider sustainable, right. And so of the solar that Georgia has 97% of it is utility scale solar. And that leaves only 3%, which is rooftop solar. And Georgia just recently, I think it was 2019. Also that same rate case where I told you a lot of things happened. In that rate case, the commission required Georgia Power to offer better terms to rooftop solar customers. So it's called monthly netting, where the customer is able to offset their bill with retail rates. So the end of the month, the bill will settle and all the energy they put back on the grid, where they consumed goes to the reduce the bill. Whereas before that change, it was wholesale, which meant that the customer still had to pay a lot of money, because whatever extra they put on the grid was a fraction of what they will be charged. So wholesale versus retail. And so there was a slight change in December 2019, when decisions were made that 5000 customers in Georgia would get retail monthly netting, which is great. That is what most states in the US are doing. There are some states that are blocked solar, and Georgia is close to being one of those except for these 5000 customers that get monthly. So a whole lot of customers signed up for solar. And that pipeline is now full. And there's a group of solar companies and other clean energy advocates who have a campaign going called scrap the cap, which is basically saying stop doing a 5000 cap and let people enroll in this program, either unlimited or much higher numbers of only 5000, which is so small, yes. Which is why George only has 3% of rooftop solar without rooftop solar, you know, we will not be able to reduce carbon emissions to the amount we need. Every study shows rooftop solar is an important component of reducing carbon emissions. And we're in an era where people care about energy and they want to be engaged and they want to do things, this is an important choice that they should be able to make.

Meral Clarke:

I agree Yes.

Patty Durand:

And also there are studies that will show that rooftop solar is actually less expensive than utility scale solar. So there are other studies that show utility scale is more expensive. But if you take in other benefits of rooftop solar, which are usually ignored, things like land costs for utility scale, which don't exist for rooftop solar, or the cost of transmission getting utility scale solar to where it needs to be consumed. That's not a cost for rooftop solar. And there's all kinds of times that if the locational studies were done that rooftop solar could show there was less requirement for new grid build outs, like distribution centers, and things like that where there's grid congestion, and more expensive equipment has to be put in. But that cost can all be avoided with rooftop solar in a very critical study came out last year that showed that if you incorporate all those costs locational land cost transmission and others rooftop is cheaper than utility. So that would be one change I would bring to the commission is advocating for rooftop solar be a much bigger part of the generation mix and the consumer choice than we have right now.

Meral Clarke:

I would agree and speaking of reducing carbon emissions or addressing climate change is the current iteration of the PSC doing anything along those lines, because the extreme weather events have shown us that climate change is here to stay. And it's actually accelerating more quickly than anticipated. So what are your thoughts on that and what the PSC is doing or not doing to address climate change,

Patty Durand:

The PSC is not doing anything to reduce climate change, or to reduce carbon emissions. Unless you could say, well, they're doing this utility scale solar, and that reduces carbon emissions. But frankly, I think the reason they're doing utility scale solar, is because it is a profit stream for the utility. And that's why they're blocking rooftop solar, because it's not. Okay. So I'm not convinced that the progress we've made in any kind of solar is to address climate change, it seems to be helping Georgia Power. And then with some of the things that the Commission should be doing that they're not like I mentioned, this energy efficiency and demand response, you know, not using energy is there's a funny term called a "negawatt", which means the energy you didn't consume or generate. And that's obviously the best way to address climate change. And then there's rooftop solar, which needs to scale wind energy has a huge potential off of Georgia's coast, which is not happening that needs to happen. But probably more importantly, the commission needs to address this holistically by having a study that understands how much carbon emissions does Georgia Power and other generation sources in the state emit and what could be done to reduce those emissions affordably and have some sort of plan or program instead of having no idea? That would be the first step that they should take. And if I'm elected to the commission, that's what I would do is have a study, understand the cost and benefits of many options, many opportunities that exist. And the great thing is about clean energy is how many 1000s of jobs that it will produce even energy efficiency has many great jobs, for blue collar workers, for college students entering people wanting to change careers, be outside, be active, they're great jobs. And that is a wonderful side effect.

Meral Clarke:

Terrific. So let's talk about plant Vogtle. Okay. Why are we the only state in the US building a nuclear power plant?

Patty Durand:

Well, it is a tragedy To be honest, we are the only state because it is so breathlessly expensive, that no other state would pursue probably the most expensive generation choice there is by a wide factor, not by little but by a lot. And there was a bit of a nuclear renaissance in 2000 arts as as they're called, you know, 2000 789 when Brock's administration, and other supporters thought that nuclear would be the solution to climate change, and we should get going on carbon free admissions. So the federal government offered federal loan guarantees. And there was a lot of excitement in the industry among the nuclear energy boosters. And a lot of permits were applied for and I think 14 were permitted to began construction immediately one in South Carolina and one in Georgia. And immediately, just as quickly, cost overruns and schedule delays began. And so it was not long, maybe even the next year, the first reporting that came in to the Georgia Public Service Commission showed delays and cost overruns and problems that only accelerated and the reactor contractor was Westinghouse. They were building a new streamlined product called an AP 1000. That's what they were doing South Carolina and Georgia and some other dates, you know, they had never been built before. We always hear promises, and boosterism on new modular nuclear and new streamline permitting and all these crazy promises that don't come to pass. And so, in 2017, Westinghouse went bankrupt. They were not able to build the reactors in an affordable manner and the costs were so extreme, they could not continue to business so they went bankrupt. Toshiba came in and guaranteed that they bought components of the business and guaranteed the two utilities Plant Summer was the name of the one in South Carolina plant Vogtle's the one in Georgia. A payout from the bankruptcy both utilities received that payout but the results were catastrophic for South Carolina. they canceled their plant, I think was the right decision because they saved billions of dollars. But they did end up with a $9 billion hole in the ground as critics call it . 9 Billion but they didn't get anything for it. But meanwhile, I think the cost for Plant Vogtle is now $32 billion, which is crazy for the amount of energy it produces,

Meral Clarke:

And Georgia's taxpayers are paying for that correct?

Patty Durand:

Well, I wouldn't word it that way. It's every Georgia electricity payer. So a lot of people think it's just Georgia Power customers. And if they are an electric membership cooperative, or they have a city utility, that they're okay, that's actually not true, because all three groups are partners in this project. And so electric membership c operatives will be also i creasing their rates to pay f r the nuclear energy they have c ntracted to buy from this p ant. And same with munis. So 9 % of Georgians are on the h ok. The only ones that aren't a e those who maybe have TVA p wer and a very tiny part of t e state. Most everyone else is o the hook for this. And it is v ry expensive, as you know.

Meral Clarke:

So you advocate getting rid of the entire project and investing in renewable energy, correct?

Patty Durand:

No, I wouldn't say that I think the plant is too far along now to cancel x 93, or 95% built. So I think at this point, there are several things that need to happen. I think at this point, one thing that needs to happen is that the extreme cost overruns need to be a large part of those need to be borne by Georgia Power, which by the way, has made billions of dollars in the delays, I'm sure can you imagine building a house, or constructing a business and telling the contractor that there's no budget and no cost limit, and you just go ahead and whatever it takes, that's pretty much the model the Public Service Commission has given I mean, there is a budget, but the budget is not reliable. It has never been reliable, it has always been wrong. And even in the last filing that the independent monitor, there's an independent monitor that's been hired to assess the progress of the plant. The Independent monitors June seventh filing of this year said that Georgia power's cost estimate and schedule estimates are both unreliable and have been for a long time, he put side by side tables to show that the estimates are wrong. So I think in a normal business, when costs are beyond what they said, the business has to bear that responsibility. In this case, the Commission has the choice of allowing Georgia Power to put all of those costs into the rates that we pay, which will raise our rates a lot, or none of the costs, which would go to shareholders of Georgia Power. So instead of making many billions, they'd make fewer billions, or some portion of us to have rates to go up and shareholders. So that is a very important decision point coming. And that is what I think the commission should do to protect consumers from these unreliable estimates. And these decisions to go for the most expensive power plant ever built on Earth, which is what plant Vogtle is a lot of those costs should be carried by the utility.

Meral Clarke:

I completely agree. But as we know, the large corporations in Georgia usually get a pass and across the country as well. So what is that percentage of power? Do you know that plant Vogtle provides you said it was a very small percentage? Correct?

Patty Durand:

Each generator they call them units unit for a unit for each unit will produce about 1100 megawatts of electricity. So together 2200 megawatts? So there are a lot of ways to look at that. So you could say, well, how much were natural gas plant costs? How much would a coal plant which no one is building now? Right? How much would a solar plus battery storage plant be? Could we have invested that money and energy efficiency and demand response and not built anything at all? All of those estimates show a much lower cost to the state to Georgia's ratepayers, had any of them been chosen nine times lower in some cases? Oh, my four to nine times lower? had other choices been made for this amount of electricity for 2200 megawatts at the time.

Meral Clarke:

So are there any Democrats on the commission? Currently?

Patty Durand:

There are no democrats and that's what needs to change.Yes, Republicans are nown to be very business riendly. And so they have been ore than accommodating to eorgia Power. Basically, eorgia Power owns the ommission. One of the other hings I'm advocating for is a onsumer utility council, which sed to be in existence, I think hat was defunded in 2008 during he Great Recession. That agency eported up through the Consumer rotection Division for the tate and by all accounts, they id a great job negotiating on ehalf of consumers and getting oncessions and a more fair ecision. And you said a minute go, large corporations get heir way often and that is rue. However, if We had a unded consumer utility council hat would really do a lot to ounterbalance the decisions hat Commissioner making just on ehalf of Georgia Power by not aving anyone to Well, there are ome staff that advocate and hey do a great job. But they re in the building with the ommissioners. They are funded y the Commission's budget. And hey are routinely ignored by ommissioners to everyone's rustration, including them, I ooked at the decisions that ame out of the 2019 rate case, here are over 30 different ecisions, and 99% of any ubstantive decision went in avor of the utility and against hat the public interest dvisory staff had asked for. hat's unfortunate. So it's very unfortunate. And so I think that would be another area where I could help

Meral Clarke:

That would be wonderful. So drilling down, what exactly is the difference between Georgia Power and an electric Co Op, like, we have in Fannin County and in so ma y rural areas of the stat

Patty Durand:

I don't know the exact year I think it was 1926 or 36. The rural electrification Act was passed by the federal government after Roosevelt came to Georgia, remember, he had polio when he came to white spring guess swam there, and people didn't understand it. They thought that could cure him or make him better. Maybe it did feel better, didn't cure him, of course. But he was appalled at the poverty and their darkness in rural Georgia and other states, Tennessee, and so forth. So he went back and passed the rural electrification program, and that enabled the federal government to help EMCs as they're sometimes called, or electric membership cooperatives fulfill a need that every person living in the United States should be able to connect to electricity and have lights. Because it's not affordable. There's no business case, for rural areas to have electricity, it's too expensive, and private businesses wouldn't do it and couldn't do it. So EMCs are nonprofit corporations, unlike Georgia Power, so they're originally created by the federal government, but they're on their own now. And they serve rural parts of Georgia and make sure that everyone who wants power can get power affordably, and they're created with a board of directors and they have every person that it gets power from them is considered a member. That's why it's called an EMC membership cooperative. And the end of the year, they give rebates back, if they've charged too much, it's really hard to know exactly how much to charge. So they give rebates back or patronage capital back to their members through checks and rebates. So that's why they exist. That's how they differ from Georgia Power.

Meral Clarke:

Right. So basically, profit versus non profit, is what I'm hearing. And unfortunately, that's never surprising, especially not now. So speaking of rural areas, over 40% of Fannin County does not have access to broadband. The pandemic has really hurt kids who need to take classes remotely and adults who've lost jobs or couldn't apply for new jobs or unemployment benefits online. Why haven't Internet Service Providers made broadband available here and in other rural areas? And can the PSC do anything to help us?

Patty Durand:

So it's a very similar answer to the one that we just discussed. There is a very difficult business case, because the density of people living in rural Georgia is so low, and the distance, you know, the expense of bringing in new cable lines, or burying fiber optics is just too expensive when there's one person per mile or that's an exaggeration, but but you know what I mean, very few people spread out to your to spread out, which is great. You know, in many ways living in the country is beautiful, you see stars and hear that whippoorwills have fresh air and see lots of beautiful trees. But downside is, it's an expensive place to live for infrastructure. And so that's why the cable companies haven't come. But also there have been some unfair charges that the EMCs were doing to those cable companies where they were asking for almost $30, in some cases, a pole for the cable companies to attach their wires to their poles, which meant the business case was even less likely to work. And so that's where the legislature has come in to Georgia legislature has done a good job. I think maybe because of the pandemic. I'm not exactly sure what compelled them now as opposed to why not five years ago, but they passed a law recently that said that the Public Service Commission can decide how much the pole attachment fee could be. Whereas before this law was passed, the PSC had no authority to have anything to do with that and so the charges remained high. So the state law was passed. And then December of last year, the Public Service Commission passed a policy that allows EMCs to only charge $1 a poll. So you do the numbers, you know, from $27 down to one. I can't I don't know what that is. But that's a very huge decrease in cost. Yes, it is. And that's only for unserved areas. If cable is art or internet is already in rural Georgia, then the EMCs get to continue to charge anywhere between 17 and $27. a pole but for unserved areas. It's now only $1. And that should really help. What that is one of two ways the state has acted to really help broadband get to rural Georgia.

Meral Clarke:

The EMCs have a stake in this as well, when it comes to rural broadband. Is that an area that you see expanding? Yes, that's right. for rural areas.

Patty Durand:

The other way, Georgia has approved a lot of money for Rural Internet construction, I think it was $20 million, one year, 10 million next year, and every year after, and EMCs are going to get a lot of that money and are going to be internet service providers. And I think that's a good fit for them. They're already in the home. They're already serving homes with electricity. So it seems logical to me that they would serve with internet too.

Meral Clarke:

That makes sense. And since they're a nonprofit, they can probably keep the costs low. Correct?

Patty Durand:

Iwould think so. Yeah. Keep it lower than for profit company coming in.

Meral Clarke:

Because up here in Fannin, we don't have cable, we have satellite, or you know, you can cut the cord or cut the feed as it goes with satellite, but it's the EMCs that I know Blue Ridge, EMC is looking at providing broadband, at least for businesses starting out. That's great. Hopefully, that will extend to everyone in the residential area as well. What else do you see as problematic? What do you think is the biggest problem facing the PSC right now? And how do we resolve it?

Patty Durand:

I wouldn't say this is facing the PSC. I would say the biggest problem that I see in the PSC is that they have taken a lot of actions that I think show disrespect for consumers. For example, during the pandemic, every state in the nation just about I didn't research all of them. But most states put a moratorium on disconnections from electric service because the economy was shut down and people couldn't work and a lot of them were sick with pandemic. And so there was a moratorium to not disconnect service that people could not pay across the country. And the decision to make was when to end those moratoriums and began disconnections. And unlike any other state, Georgia began, even in the middle of pandemic, July and August of last year before we had vaccines, the economy was still shut down. No one knew how long it would be Georgia PSC authorized Georgia Power to resume disconnections. In the hottest months of the year when lives are at risk. There was a very large number of consumer advocates and nonprofits on behalf of consumer health the entire nonprofit community soon came together. They wrote the commission a long letter, begging them not to resume moratoriums not turns into now. Of course, they ignored all of that. And did it anyway. 35,000 people were disconnected during those two months. Oh, that's terrible. It was terrible and why? Like there was no reason then the commission was making Georgia Power whole, they allowed Georgia Power to put all of their COVID costs onto the ratepayers and put all of their unpaid bills onto the ratepayers. So why not wait till the fall when it was cooler? Or the winter like many utilities, more their moratoriums lasted a year. Right. So that was one appalling thing. And the other thing is that the Commission allows a tremendous amount of redactions and trade secrets. So for instance, in 2009, when plant Vogtle was being pitched as necessary, the commission allowed Georgia Power to mark as a trade secret future load growth forecasts so that people like I don't expect average citizens to go pull that document. The people like me are interested citizens, energy professionals could not get that information, even though we're paying for it. We're paying for this plant and for the energy, we're not allowed to see what Georgia Power projects future growth is going to be that makes this plant necessary in their minds. Why? Georgia Power is not a competitive business. They've got no competition. They claim they need this private because of proprietary competitive interest, but they don't have competition. There's a funny tweet that I saw last year where someone wrote who redax acknowledgments Georgia Power, and there's a report that says we'd like to thank. And then everything is blacked out, oh my and then every table that said how much future electricity needs was blacked out. I mean, the entire report was basically blacked out. So that's another thing that I think is very disrespectful to consumers. And then they pass the rate plan that I told you about, where consumers are paying more, there was no study, the fee is hidden. I think that's very disrespectful. And that's what I would do on a commission is, I would bring respect back to the people to make sure that people's needs and desires and treatment is respectful and fair to them.

Meral Clarke:

and transparency and transparency, which apparently is a huge issue.

Patty Durand:

That's very important. And that's probably the most frustrating thing to me is the lack of transparency for people to know what's happening, right? These are public servants. These commissioners are paid a handsome salary from taxpayers, all the staff are taxed, and you know, the utility is not paying for them the State is. So everything that goes on there should be transparent. We're paying for it all.

Meral Clarke:

I agree completely. So if any of our listeners want to discuss potential careers and energy or get in touch with you, where should they go? Give us your website address, please.

Patty Durand:

Sure. My website is PattyforPSC.com. And I also have a Facebook page or campaign page called Patty for gapsc. I'd love everyone to go on Facebook and like that, and you'll see posts that I'll be putting there in terms of my campaign. And yeah, I would love to urge people, if any college students or high school students are listening to this to consider energy as a career because it's really exciting. It's really fun. The nonprofit community is especially fun. There's a lot of nonprofits in and around Atlanta that advocate on behalf of people and energy, including South based Energy Institute, partnership for Southern equity has a large component of energy. Georgia Watch does Southern Environmental Law Center and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. There are many nonprofits in Savannah and Augusta and other Georgia cities. If anyone's listening to this and would like to know more, they could email me and I have a contact page on my website what I could tell them about the other nonprofits but even if you wanted to work for utilities, or businesses that serve utilities, or consulting, there are so many great careers and energy is one of the most dynamic fields there are because we think about how important the internet is, even during the pandemic, people couldn't apply for unemployment benefits or new jobs, they couldn't surf the internet, kids couldn't get their classes like it is not a fun thing to just do games. Now it is critical to people's lives. And that same change has come to the energy industry, where people now can engage around energy and people can buy electric vehicles or rooftop solar or go online and see their data online, or enrolled in different rate plans or smart speakers. In some cases, the fastest adopted technology in the history of the world are smart speakers with

Meral Clarke:

Wow,I didn't know that.

Patty Durand:

Yeah, people really took to them, I guess because, you know, we're used to our smartphones. So everyone is more savvy with computers. And all those changes are affecting energy. And then we have climate change on top of it. So people care about the environment, where climate change, all of that is basically energy. So it's a great space to work in. And I encourage everyone to think about it seriously. There's a lot of need for new people in this space.

Meral Clarke:

Fantastic and a lot of opportunity, I imagine. So that's great. Well, we're running short on time. But before we go tell us a fun fact about yourself something and I ask all my guests this question, something that is not related to your work or your campaign something about you that our listeners may be interested in hearing about.

Patty Durand:

Okay, a fun fact that's fun. Well, I'm late in life, discovering and loving live music. So I love to go to festivals and concerts that music venues. And I'm just really enjoying things like Music Midtown in Atlanta or imagine and Chattahoochee hills. There's really fun concerts here in Peachtree Corners. There's a lot of live music that all the cities around here host for free on weekends, people bring their lawn chairs in a picnic basket and meet their friends and listen to bands and just watch the evening come in.

Meral Clarke:

And we haven't been able to do that for a long time. Now sadly.

Patty Durand:

Yeah. Well, this summer, a lot of places around here have to go doing it because it's outside and it's safer. Right? And it's been fun to have it back because last summer everything was canceled. But that's just so delightful to And that's myfun fact.

Meral Clarke:

Well, that's wonderful. And that's a wonderful Fun fact. I love music as well, so I can definitely relate. Well, thank you, Patty, for joining us today. Thank you. Yeah, and sharing more about your crucial work in this area, which is so important. I'm Meral Clarke and on behalf of our team, I'd like to thank everyone for listening to the North Georgia Blue Podcast. We hope you'll listen in next time when our special guests will be Justin Holsomback the Georgia Democratic Party Secretary. To learn more about the Fannin County democrats and the work that we're doing Please visit us online at FanninCountyGeorgiaDemocrats.com and consider sharing the North Georgia Blue Podcast with your friends and family. Join us again as we get into some more good trouble.