My fellow Georgians, these are unprecedented times. As we continue to battle the global Coronavirus pandemic, a reckoning with our nation’s systemic mistreatment of Black people, particularly at the hands of police, is boiling over in cities and towns all over America.
Tensions are rightly high and the economic fallout from our unprecedented public health crisis continues to reach deeper into all sectors of life, including our utilities. That is why I was shocked to learn that on Tuesday, the Public Service Commission voted 5-0 to resume disconnections of electricity and gas. With one in four Americans unemployed and millions still waiting on the economic stimulus and unemployment payments promised, how could the current commission approve such a decision?
I have stood firm in my call to protect Georgia families from the loss of essential utilities such as those regulated by our Public Service Commission. In March, I issued a petition urging Governor Brian Kemp to authorize utility regulators to take special actions to protect consumers during the COVID-19 public health emergency. I also voiced my appreciation following the decision of both Atlanta Gas Light and Georgia Power to pause disconnections and waive late payment fees for customers due to nonpayment amid COVID-19 concerns. At that point, Georgia’s unemployment claims were around 12,000. Today, barely three months later, unemployment claims are over 160,000 and continue to mount in spite of efforts to reopen our state. I am convinced that the current protections set to end in July do not go far enough and must not end.
It also begs the question, why are the Commissioners in such a hurry to bow to the requests of Atlanta Gas Light and Georgia Power? As the utility companies and commissioners stay focused on “bad debt methodology” and “cost deferrals,” who is protecting the customer? Particularly when the current Commission already approved earnings on Georgia Power profits that are among the highest for any investor-owned utility in the country. Make no mistake that a path is being laid to recover these costs from the ratepayer. That includes seniors living on fixed incomes, the small business owners not able to reopen, and essential workers that were already feeling the weight of some of the highest energy burdens in the country.
If you agree that we should not abandon families struggling to make ends meet, even more families now than before the crisis, I call on you to make your voice heard. Here are three steps that we can take immediately –
- Call or email your Public Service Commissioner to let them know you disagree with their vote to end the moratorium and ask them to require Atlanta Gas Light and Georgia Power to create income-based payment plans.
- Submit a public comment stating your disapproval of resuming disconnections and ask them to require Atlanta Gas Light and Georgia Power to continue to waive late payment fees and publicly report on data such as the number of customers subject to disconnection. You can submit your comment online or contact Reece McAlister, Executive Secretary for access to comment virtually during the June 11, 9:30 a.m. livestream Energy Committee meeting.
- Ask at least five people you know to take the same actions and post on your social media with the hashtag #NoShutoffs
Taking these actions and making your voice heard is more important than ever. Particularly as we march head on into summer heat that is set to break records as one of the top 10 hottest years in recorded history, with a 50 percent chance of being the hottest ever. Extreme heat plus electricity bill spikes plus the highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression are a potentially deadly combination. And let’s remember that just because Georgia is in various stages of reopening, our employment crisis has not ended. People not only lost their jobs, but many of those jobs are simply not coming back.
I remain convinced that the protections Commissioners just voted to end did not go far enough. I stand in solidarity with the tens of thousands of Georgia families that haven’t had a chance to recover and commit to holding the Commission accountable. We deserve a Public Service Commission that works for the people, not just the utility. If you are ready to put the Public Service back in the Public Service Commission, then cast your vote for Daniel Blackman. We can create a brighter, cleaner, more just energy future tomorrow together.
Daniel Blackman is a respected community leader, impact investor, and policy advisor committed to fighting for environmental justice, public health, and political empowerment to uplift America’s most vulnerable communities. He is a candidate to serve on Georgia’s Public Service Commission District 4.
“Working Families should not have to choose between keeping the lights on or putting food on the table; and Senior Citizens on fixed incomes should never have to choose between paying for their medications or their home energy bill. The People of Georgia deserve a fearless and consistent voice on their Public Service Commission. I would be honored to be that voice, and even more honored to earn your support.” —Daniel Blackman, Candidate, Georgia’s Public Service Commission District 4.