Proposal for Dalton Utilities afoot again in legislature

ATLANTA — Dalton Utilities would be able to borrow money to fund electricity projects without seeking public approval under a proposal that is on the move under the Gold Dome.

A similar measure stalled last session, but a revived attempt easily cleared a Senate committee Thursday, even though many of the same concerns remain.

Mark Woodall with the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club argued that the real driving force for the bill was the ongoing expansion of Plant Vogtle, which is a nuclear power plant near Augusta. That work is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

“Taking away the right of the people of Dalton to vote — that’s not going to solve our issues with Vogtle,” Woodall told lawmakers.

Sen. Chuck Payne, a Republican from Dalton, claimed that the utility’s push to end the public vote requirement is unrelated to its small stake in the project.

“Dalton Utilities has 1.6 percent interest in Vogtle. So Vogtle is not the reason that they’re doing this,” Payne said.

A Senate committee unanimously approved the measure on Thursday after a brief discussion. If it clears the Senate, the proposal will face opposition in the House, where some lawmakers remain unconvinced.

Rep. Jason Ridley, a Republican who represents a portion of Whitfield County, said he is against giving Dalton Utilities what he said amounts to an open checkbook for Plant Vogtle.

“Bottom line: Ratepayers should not be on the hook,” Ridley said Thursday.

Payne argued that a decision to borrow for electricity would still have to go through other the City Council for approval. He also noted that the city-owned utility already does not have to go through a public referendum when borrowing for other projects, such as when improving the city’s water system.

Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

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