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    Georgia PSC commissioner touts clean energy during presentation to Albany Rotarians


    January 28, 2022 - Alan Mauldin, The Albany Herald, Ga.

     

      Jan. 27—ALBANY — Tim Echols is a crime fighter by night and a clean energy proponent by day.

      That joke was his own, referring to his work in fighting child sex trafficking and as one of five members of the Geogia Public Service Commission, which regulates telecommunications, electricity and natural gas services.

      The District 2 commissioner, a Republican who lives in the Athens area, is passionate about both, as he displayed during a Thursday appearance at the Albany Rotary Club meeting held at Doublegate Country Club.

      A strong proponent of nuclear power and the expansion under way at Plant Vogtle, he also has been a force in pushing the state forward in solar power generation. When he took office in 2011 Georgia was 34th among states, and now it is No. 9.

      Solar plants have proliferated in the area, with projects completed in Dougherty and Mitchell counties, and one is being built in Lee County.

      Currently, solar power provides about 8 percent of the electricity produced in the state, and Georgia Power Co. has been the biggest player among the utility companies.

      "I think we'll have it growing until we're at 15 percent," Echols said during an interview following his presentation. "I think we'll have that in nine years.

      "Our role is to tell the power companies how much (solar) we want done. They write a plan; we approve the plan. Every time we have doubled the amount they proposed. It's not just Georgia Power saying they're going to do it. It's the PSC saying, 'We think the (generation) composition should be this.'"

      During his presentation, the commissioner gave a brief history of the PSC. Its origins go back to 1879 when the state formed the Railroad Commission after lawmakers received complaints about the monopoly rail companies, which included allowing perishable fruits and vegetables to sit unshipped.

      Later the commission regulated telegraph, and its role shifted with time to include its current responsibilities.

      Texas is an example of what completely unregulated utilities look like, and roughly a year ago that picture wasn't pretty. The state put the number of deaths related to a massive winter power outage at nearly 250.

      North Dakota, with a much colder climate, did not have the same problems as that in the unregulated Lone Star State.

      "About a year ago, 4.5 million people were without power" in Texas, Echols said. "Some of those people were out of power for a week. It was a huge wakeup call."

      One concern he shared was that about 2 percent of generation capacity is set to retire by 2040.

      "What do you do about that?" he said. "You get Plant Vogtle built."

      The Georgia Power nuclear facility and the expansion there will provide power for years to come, he said.

      "Those Vogtle reactors will run for 80 years," he said. "One-tenth of Georgians will get their power out of that, and that's a lot."

      Echols' entry into clean energy started with solar water heating installed shortly before he was sworn into office. He has purchased a car powered by natural gas, a propane-powered van and currently owns an electric vehicle.

      He also created the Clean Energy Roadshow, which tours the state each summer to help individuals, businesses and governments evaluate using alternative fuels for transportation and residential use.

      He launched the "Unholy Tour" to take state lawmakers into some of the worst neighborhoods in the state to show them the areas where sex trafficking of minors is an issue. He also led the effort that turned a former detention facility into an intake center for children who escape trafficking to help them recover.

      "You've got to know, this is a rough business," he said after describing injuries some victims receive from their abusers, including missing teeth from beatings. "There cannot be a tough enough penalty against it."

      ___

      (c)2022 The Albany Herald, Ga.

      Visit The Albany Herald, Ga. at www.albanyherald.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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