Echols faces Douglas in Aug. 10 runoff

COVINGTON — Tim Echols believes he is uniquely poised to bring a fresh, statewide perspective to the Public Service Commission.

The Winterville Republican will square off with former state Sen. John Douglas of Social Circle in the Aug. 10 primary runoff election.

Douglas, who retired from the U.S. Army in 1994, has represented Newton County in various elected capacities since 1998. Most recently, he represented the 17th Senate District from 2004 until this year when he declined to seek re-election in order to run for PSC District 2.

Echols and Douglas were the top two vote-getters in the July 20 primary election out of a field of four Republicans. Echols secured 35.1 percent of the vote and Douglas garnered 27.6 percent.

Echols, who created and operates a nonprofit organization, said he was drawn to run for the PSC District 2 seat due to his deep interest in public policy.

Echols formed the Family Resource Network and in 1994 started a citizenship program for high school students, TeenPact, that is now used in 38 states.

"I have been teaching public policy since 1994, and I see the PSC as the difference between a hot court and cold court," he said. "The PSC is very cold in that you get six months to study an issue. The issues before the PSC require a lot of study. For example, just Atlanta Gas Light's rate increase request brought 10 file boxes of material."

But more than just appealing to his interest in and ability to deeply research issues, Echols said it is just as important to have a Public Service commissioner who makes the PSC accessible and relevant to people outside Atlanta.

"Particularly in rural South Georgia because, in my travels there, I believe they feel like they don't have a voice in the PSC, " Echols said. "All the PSC's hearings are held exclusively on Washington Street (in Atlanta), so South Georgia people have a long way to travel to attend."

One of Echols' proposals would be to hold a series of hearings in southeast Georgia and in southwest Georgia.

"I know it requires a little bit of travel, but it would give those people a chance to have input," he said. "And it's not just good for them, but it's also good for the commissioners. People have good ideas and they may bring problems or ideas that commissioners hadn't thought of."

But first, Echols has to focus on the upcoming runoff election. He said the one area where he and Douglas disagree is over Douglas' support of Senate Bill 31, which allowed Georgia Power to charge ratepayers for construction financing of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle.

"The reason I come down so hard on this is because when you allow a company like Georgia Power to start this trend and move away from the way it's been done before — and it took Georgia Power 90 lobbyists to get this done — then other utilities will want to follow suit," Echols said. "(S.B. 31) was a mistake by the Legislature, and I would certainly like to see them reverse this and take the charge off people's bills."

Echols also wants to lead by example by encouraging the use of clean energy sources, including natural gas and solar power. He has called on Atlanta Gas Light to find ways to make natural gas more affordable and available for consumers in place of gasoline.

Echols said he would advocate for municipalities and county governments to convert much of their fleets to natural gas, but in the meantime, he will lead by example, driving his own compressed natural gas vehicle and installing a solar-powered water heater in his home.

"I will be an ambassador for clean, renewable energy and these are two areas where I want to personally lead the way," Echols said.

Echols and his wife, Windy, have been married 27 years and they have seven children ranging in age from 21 to 10 years. Echols holds a bachelor's degree in English and master's degrees in nonprofit organization and journalism, all from the University of Georgia. He is the author of the book "Real Citizenship," a primer on grassroots political activism.