(The Center Square) – More than just the two U.S. Senate runoff elections will be on the ballot in the Jan. 5 election for voters in north Georgia.

In a District 4 runoff for public service commissioner, Republican incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr. faces Democratic challenger Daniel Blackman. The Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) oversees utility rates in the state. District 4 includes more than three dozen counties in north Georgia.

McDonald was appointed to the GPSC by former Gov. Zell Miller in 1998. He remained on the commission until 2002 and was reelected in 2008. He defeated a challenge from Blackman in 2014.

Before serving on the commission, McDonald served as a state representative for two decades after years as a local elected official.

According to McDonald’s campaign page, he gained insight into the energy industry during his tenure on the GPSC. He has pushed for solar power in Georgia, resulting in the state becoming one of the five fastest-growing states in the nation for solar energy, his campaign said.

“He has accomplished this through a conservative and thoughtful free-market approach without putting upward pressure on rates and without state-sponsored financial incentives,” McDonald’s campaign website reads.

Blackman also has experience in addressing energy concerns. He has worked as an energy policy adviser for former President Barack Obama and other political, religious and governmental leaders and boards and nonprofit organizations. In 2015, Blackman was invited to Vatican City to discuss the global effect of the climate crisis ahead of the Paris Climate Accords, according to his campaign.

If elected, Blackman said he would work closely with the utility industry to ensure the safety and job security in the current energy workforce. He also plans to “build a pipeline of skilled Georgians to take on” future energy challenges.

McDonald said his priority always has been protecting ratepayers, keeping regulated companies in check and maintaining low energy costs in Georgia.

Georgia is the eighth-most energy-expensive state in the nation, according to a recent report by WalletHub. Monthly electricity costs average $154, according to the finance website.

If elected, Blackman also said he would champion for lower rates for residents and small businesses and lobby for utility assistance programs for seniors and low-income Georgians.

This article was initially published at TheCenterSquare

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