Next week’s primary election in Georgia has made national news as a potential bellwether of how voters view former President Donald Trump and his false claims that the 2020 presidential election in the state, which he lost, was stolen. Far from the national news, lower down the ballot, that same election on May 24 will also help shape where and how the state gets its electricity—and by extension whether the U.S. meets its goals of cutting the emissions that cause climate change.
Two seats are on the ballot in the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC). It’s a wonky agency with a wonky name, but as the regulator of the state’s electric utility companies, the PSC will play a critical role helping determine whether Georgia sources electricity from renewable energy or relies more heavily on natural gas as the state’s utilities chart a course away from coal-fired power.
Last month at a conference, I met Chandra Farley, a Democratic candidate running to represent Atlanta and its surroundings on the PSC. Despite the inherent weediness of the agency, and the often distant nature of the climate problem more broadly, Farley is determined to make the race a priority for voters by focusing on how energy challenges affect people’s daily lives. Instead of beginning our conversation with talking points about climate change, she framed her race to me as an opportunity to address runaway energy costs in local communities and “take back power for the people.”
“The entire energy system needs a fundamental shift,” she says. “But that fundamental shift has to be centered on addressing the disproportionate impacts on people.”
Whether she succeeds in engaging voters and changing the shape of the Republican-majority commission will impact not only the lives of the people on the ground who have recently experienced a sharp rise in electricity prices but also the trajectory of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Georgia is not alone. In cities, counties, and states across the country, other races just like Farley’s will help shape the future of U.S. energy policy. Unfortunately, too few voters are paying attention.