Virginia Gov. Youngkin hits campaign trail with Kemp

Glenn Youngkin

ALPHARETTA – Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican who pulled off an upset victory in his state over Democrat Terry McAuliffe last year, came to Georgia Tuesday to stump with GOP Gov. Brian Kemp.

“The pundits said Virginia wouldn’t elect a Republican governor. It was too blue,” Youngkin told an enthusiastic crowd gathered at Alpharetta’s Town Green. “They forgot to ask the voters. Voters stood up and made a statement. … Now, it’s your turn.”

Youngkin said the changes he has brought to Virginia during his first year in office were modeled after what Kemp did in Georgia during the pandemic, including reopening schools and businesses.

“We were locked tight and shut tight during the pandemic,” Youngkin said. “You didn’t have that because you had Brian Kemp.”

Kemp said his actions to reopen Georgia’s economy earlier than the media and Stacey Abrams, his Democratic challenger, thought was wise helped Georgia lead the nation’s recovery.

“I wasn’t listening to them. I was listening to the people in restaurants, barber shops, the cosmetologists,” he said. “They understood we had to protect lives. But we also had to protect livelihoods.”

Kemp reminded his audience of actions the Republican-controlled General Assembly took this year at his urging, including approving the largest state income tax cut in Georgia history, passing a $1 billion tax rebate, and suspending the state’s gasoline tax while pump prices remain high.

If he wins a second term in November, he pledged to push for another $1 billion tax rebate, making use of robust budget reserves he said were built up because of Georgia’s economic recovery.

“We have excess money,” he said. “We’re going to send it back to you taxpayers.”

Kemp also cited the Parents’ Bill of Rights the legislature adopted this year to guarantee parents a say in their children’s education, an issue Youngkin also emphasized on the campaign trail after McAuliffe said during a debate that parents should not have a role in preparing a school’s curriculum.

In a second term, Kemp promised to continue his focus on overcoming the learning loss students suffered during the pandemic when schools closed and switched to online instruction.

A group of anti-abortion activists held up signs during Tuesday’s rally criticizing Kemp’s support for Georgia’s new anti-abortion law, which took effect soon after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in June.

One sign, which read “Regulate Guns, Not Women,” took a second swipe at the governor’s backing of legislation this year allowing Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Kemp declares state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Ian

Map courtesy Office of Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp has declared a state of emergency in all 159 Georgia counties in anticipation of Hurricane Ian, currently a Category 3 hurricane expected to hit the state on Friday. 

The state of emergency will take effect at 7 a.m. Thursday in preparation for expected high winds and rainfall over the state as the hurricane moves north.

Currently hovering over Cuba, Ian is expected to strike Florida’s west coast on Wednesday and Thursday and move north into Georgia on Friday, bringing with it heavy rains, flooding and high winds. 

The southeast Georgia coast is likely to be hit with a tropical storm or depression before the storm exits Georgia on Sunday, with possible storm surges, beach erosion and rip currents predicted. 

Coastal Camden and Glynn counties are already under a tropical storm warning. A tropical storm watch is in effect for the entire Georgia coast.

Across the state, Georgians could face heavy rains, flooding, high winds and the loss of power, the governor’s office said. 

Georgians are encouraged to pay close attention to local officials’ guidance and make emergency plans. Those in low-lying or coastal areas should consider moving to higher ground.

Georgia activated the State Operations Center this week to help prepare for the storm. The State Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency is currently at Level 2 activation. 

The state of emergency extends until Oct. 28. 

Those who find themselves in Ian’s eventual path can also consult the informational website, which includes tips on storm preparedness before, during, and after a hurricane.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

PSC lawyer: Georgia Power poised to seek several rate hikes

ATLANTA – A nearly 12% rate increase Georgia Power is seeking is just one of four the utility will be requesting during the next three years, a staff lawyer for the state Public Service Commission (PSC) said Tuesday.

If the PSC approves all four, the average residential customer bill could soar by $55 to $60 a month, not just the $16.29 monthly increase in base rates the company is asking for, Preston Thomas, representing the commission’s Public Interest Advocacy Staff, said on the opening day of hearings on the rate hike request.

“Staff have concern with all of these different requests for rate increases in such a short period of time and the impact it could have on consumers,” Thomas told commissioners.

The rate hike, which Georgia Power proposed in June, would take effect on Jan. 1. The increase is front-loaded, meaning $14.32 of the additional $16.29 would kick in immediately. The remaining $1.97 would become effective in 2024 and 2025.

The increase is needed to strengthen the utility’s electric grid, add more renewable energy to its power-generation portfolio and improve customer service, Chris Womack, Georgia’s Power’s chairman, president, and CEO testified Tuesday.

“We are seeking to establish rates for the next three years that will allow us to continue to provide clean, safe, and reliable energy this state depends on and to deliver the first-class service our customers expect and deserve,” Womack said.

The PSC is scheduled to vote on the increase in base rates in December. But commissioners won’t get much of a respite before Georgia Power returns to seek additional increases.

Womack said Tuesday the company expects to file a request in February for unrecovered fuel costs to account for the volatility of the energy market resulting from factors including rising natural gas prices and the impacts of the war in Ukraine.

Thomas said Georgia Power also will seek increases to cover the costs of bringing the two nuclear reactors the utility is building at Plant Vogtle into service.

Together, the four increases would drive up the utility’s costs by about $2.9 billion, not the approximately $1 billion Georgia Power is seeking in the current rate hike request, he said.

“How can we look at the rate impact without looking at the total for the three-year period that the company is coming before the commission and asking for?” Thomas asked.

Womack said there’s no way at this point to ascertain what Georgia Power would need to request in February in fuel recovery costs.

Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald said the utility has nothing to gain from those costs.

“Fuel costs are a pass-through,” he said. “There’s no profit to be made by the power company on fuel costs.”

Womack also noted that the two new reactors at Plant Vogtle will bring Georgia Power customers decades of carbon-free electrical generation.

“These are investments we need to make,” he said.

Womack said the utility decided to front-load the rate increase because doing so will save customers about $40 million over the three-year period.

Georgia Power customers complained about impact the rate hike would have on low-income customers during a public-comment period at the start of Tuesday’s hearing.

“I can afford the rate increase,” said Michael Black of Decatur. “I’m here for the least of these.”

The hearings will continue on Wednesday and possibly Thursday.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Lake Lanier water deal ends decades-long legal fight

Lake Lanier

ATLANTA – Representatives of water supply systems in Gwinnett, Forsyth and Hall counties finalized an agreement with the state Monday guaranteeing them water from Lake Lanier through 2050.

The long-term deal, first announced last month, closes the chapter on a major portion of the tri-state “water wars” between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama going back to the 1990s.

“This landmark agreement is the final step in a 30-year-long process to secure water rights for Lake Lanier,” Gov. Brian Kemp declared during a ceremony at the state Capitol. “For our growing population and job creators, this is a crucial asset.”

The water wars originated when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Chattahoochee River to form Lake Lanier in the 1950s. While the new reservoir was officially designated for flood control and recreation, it was not authorized as a water supply.

Florida dragged Georgia through the courts for years, challenging the legality of what became the largest water supply serving metro Atlanta. A federal judge ruled in Florida’s favor in 2009, but Georgia eventually prevailed last year after taking the case twice to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Thirty years it has stretched out,” said former Gov. Nathan Deal, who fought the water wars on behalf of Georgia first as a Northeast Georgia congressman, then for eight years as governor. “[Kemp] finally got it to a conclusion.”

Rick Dunn, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said the contract the water suppliers signed with the state Monday will yield at least 222 million gallons of water per day, 13% of the water in Lake Lanier at full pool.

Eighty percent of the water will go to the water supply providers in the three counties, while the other 20% will be held in reserve for future allocation, Dunn said.

The deal calls for the state to reimburse the Army Corps $71 million over 30 years, he said. Once that debt is paid off, the state will get permanent storage rights to the water, he said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia bracing for Hurricane Ian

ATLANTA – Georgia emergency management officials activated the State Operations Center Monday in anticipation of Hurricane Ian, which is expected to reach Florida’s Gulf Coast later this week before potentially moving into Georgia.

A hurricane watch was in effect Monday along much of Florida’s west coast, including the Tampa Bay area, with a mandatory evacuation ordered for Hillsborough County.

Ian could become a major Category 4 storm by Tuesday, which means winds of 130 to 156 miles per hour.

The hurricane could hit South Georgia late Wednesday night or early Thursday, said Chris Stallings, director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

Gov. Brian Kemp said some models also show the storm could become stationary over Georgia, which would turn it into a major rain event.

“We have our whole team on active duty,” Kemp told reporters Monday afternoon. “We’re going to be proactive, planning ahead.”

Kemp said it’s too soon to determine whether he will declare a state of emergency in all or part of Georgia.

“I’ll use every power I’ve got to prepare for the storm and be ready when it hits,” he said.

The governor urged Georgians to monitor the storm as it evolves and take the necessary precautions to keep their families and neighbors safe if it intensifies.

Those who find themselves in Ian’s eventual path can also consult the informational website, which includes tips on storm preparedness before, during, and after a hurricane.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.