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(Editor’s note: This is one of a series of articles in the months to come on candidates for statewide office.)
Tim Echols is the vice chairman of the Public Service Commission and has served since 2011. As commissioner his primary job is energy regulation, and during his tenure Georgia has gone from the 34th ranked state in solar power to now a top 10 state. In addition, he has worked to Plant Vogtle moving forward since he believes carbon-free nuclear energy is the most beneficial way forward for Georgians.
But first, some background. Echols and his wife Wendy were the founders of a training experience for conservative high school students called TeenPact. It started in the Georgia Capitol but is now in 45 states and has trained over 50,000 students. And Echols strives to lead by example. For instance, he has installed hot water heating to his Athens residence, drives an electric car, and uses a propane van.
Echols, who will face Democrat Patty Durand in the fall election for Public Service Commissioner, sat down with InsiderAdvantage to discuss his career and future goals. Consider our questions and his answers:
QUESTION: The growth in solar energy has been exponential since you were elected. Georgia went from the 34th ranked state to now top 10. How do you plan to continue this growth, and what will it take to get Georgia’s rank even higher?
ANSWER: “SEIA, the Solar Energy Industries Association, just revised their ranking to show Georgia at #7”. “I think it will be difficult for us to go any lower because the first six states are so far ahead of us. That said, I do anticipate our Commission adding more megawatts of solar next summer during our tri-annual energy planning period.”
QUESTON: Is the completion of Plant Vogtle still slated for 2022, or sooner?
ANSWER: “We are building two identical units there, and the first one is at full pressure and temperature now– an important milestone towards commercial operation. We’ll put it into service in January and the second unit a year later.”
QUESTION: Can you explain how the benefits will eventually outweigh the costs when Plant Vogtle is complete?
ANSWER: “These reactors are carbon-free and five-generation assets. As more coal and gas plants are closed due to possible carbon-pricing, having an asset that runs at night, 24/7, is important for reliable service. Look no further than California to see what happens when you close dispatchable resources and how rolling outages hurt everyone.”
QUESTION: What about your idea to start capitalizing on waste and turning that into renewable energy, and how cities like Columbus and the entire state of Georgia will benefit from this idea?
ANSWER: “As trash rots in the hundreds of landfills we have around the state, it becomes methane gas, and can be captured and be used just like pipeline natural gas. Cities, counties, and others can capture this gas and utilize it to serve customers.”
QUESTION: You have made efforts to reach the youth and millennials. How can elected officials in Georgia do a better job with this, and is there a way to connect with younger generations and stress the importance of natural gas or maybe convince them to drive electric cars, use flexfuel, and other things of that nature?
ANSWER: “Education is the key for all customers, and I have spent 11 years doing programs like the Clean Energy Roadshow, my weekly radio show, and a weekly video stream. It is a job never completed, but every customer you help becomes an advocate for life.”
QUESTION: I believe you have previously said that you feel the supply chain for electric vehicles has to be in the United States and preferably in Georgia. How can elected officials make this happen, and can you explain the benefits of this, and why is there opposition?
ANSWER: “With the new SK Innovations battery plant going into Georgia, I hope that my Republican colleagues will become warm towards electric vehicles. There are over 50 models from manufacturers now that have a plug, and Georgia needs to get ready for this transformation.”
QUESTION: Can you talk about the recent announcement of fiber connectivity and how the citizens of Liberty County will benefit from this?
ANSWER: “The legislature passed Senate Bill 2 paving the way for EMCs to go into the broadband business, and they gave the PSC a role in making that happen. EMCs are non-profits and very committed to serving their full membership so these partnerships are underway and making a huge difference in bringing connectivity to unserved areas.”
Question: When representing the United States at the World Nuclear Exhibition, what is the key focus that you bring not just from your work for Georgia but for the entire country when talking about these issues with other countries? What sort of things have you learned from these other countries?
ANSWER: “I have attended every WNE since 2014 and, sadly, the United States is dwarfed by China, India and France in our nuclear deployment. I continue to advocate for more nuclear power here because there is no way we can reach our clean energy goals in America without new nuclear power.”