The third of the principles I’m running is “Look before you leap.” Cautious, considered decisions. It’s on this point the Public Service Commission has once again failed us.
When it comes to decision making, it would seem the PSC is eager to do whatever utility companies would like, especially their largest donors. This is obviously not a sensible approach to coming to decisions that are favorable to Georgians. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they always make the wrong decisions. As the saying goes: even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Unless it’s the clock on my wall, which would only be right once a day were its battery to run out.
The event that inspired me to talk on this matter is a proposed merger of two energy companies, SCANA and Dominion. Georgia’s PSC was eager to be the first to approve the merger. While even a politician would dare to say something so bold as “I think it’s important that citizens understand, ratepayers understand, the deal,” our noble guardians of the public would rather simply approve and move on.
We would be right to be immediately suspicious of the PSC’s interaction with SCANA in particular. SCANA spends more on lobbying the PSC than anyone else. And it’s not just Georgia. And in turn SCANA is the only company who bothers to bid on the status of a “regulated provider” of natural gas that’s worth between $10,000,000 and $20,000,000 each year (at the PSC’s whim). Could it be that the other natural gas companies know they wouldn’t be approved anyhow? Well, don’t worry about that, because…
“I don't think there is a correlation at all,” between donations and the vote, said SCANA spokeswoman Simone McKinney.
Well there you go, then. We don’t have to worry about SCANA influencing the PSC, because their spokesperson said so. Re-tune your sarcasm detector if you missed it there.
This approach to decisions – just do whatever your patrons tell you – often leads to bad choices being made on behalf of all Georgians. But what about the decision itself? Should our commission have blocked the merger? Actually, no I don’t really think so. And that’s why I bring up the metaphor of the stopped clock.
This isn’t to say the merger is a good thing overall. If we are to ever have a real market in power, it would be preferable to have conditions for a healthy market. In particular it would be better to have more participants in the market. Instead, after this merger, the resulting company would have sole control over a large share of the market, by their own admission: 6.5 million people.
But as much as I’d rather the merger not happen, blocking it for the sake of blocking it is not an appropriate use of government. I’m not aware of anything criminal involving this deal. The deal does have some direct invovlement with South Carolinians, but they have their own commission so that doesn’t justify a heavy hand from Georgia. While both companies have used state power to turn the tables – turning customers they serve into ratepayers who serve them – there’s no reason to believe that would be any worse after the merger. Maybe SCANA wants to get away from fiscal trouble arising from a failed nuclear plant in South Carolina and their fresh, new junk credit rating. Maybe Dominion just sees a cheap way to buy access to more customers and markets. None of that really justifies a “No” vote.