This story is part of a collaboration with Grist and WABE to demystify the Georgia Public Service Commission, the small but powerful state-elected board that makes critical decisions about everything from raising electricity bills to developing renewable energy.  

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up a case challenging how Georgia elects its powerful energy regulators, clearing the way for delayed Public Service Commission elections in the state to resume. The elections had previously been impugned by voting rights and clean energy advocates, who argued the existing system diluted Black votes. The case could affect future legal challenges based on the Voting Rights Act. 

“The court has spoken,” Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for the office of the Georgia Secretary of State, said in a statement. “We are on track to resume elections for the Public Service Commission in 2025.”

The advocates who sued said they’re considering how to proceed — the commission’s decisions, which include everything from energy rates and discounts to building new power plants, remain as important as ever, they told Grist and WABE.

“People are not able to pay rent, they’re not able to feed their families,” said James Woodall, a public policy associate at the Southern Center for Human Rights and one of the plaintiffs in the case. “So when I think about the decision, or lack thereof, to take on this case, I thought about those people.”

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Each of Georgia’s Public Service Commissioners has to live in a specific district, but unlike members of congress, they’re elected by statewide vote. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, all Black voters in Atlanta, argued this system dilutes their votes and therefore violates the Voting Rights Act. While a federal judge agreed, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees courts in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, overturned that decision. With the announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court will not consider the case, the 11th Circuit ruling will stand, leaving the system as is.

Public Service Commission, or PSC, elections in Georgia, meanwhile, have been on hold since 2022, when the original judge issued a stay blocking any election until a new system could be devised — a decision the Supreme Court upheld. Two elections were canceled that year, and those commissioners were allowed to continue to serve and vote; a third commissioner who was up for reelection this year will also continue to serve without facing voters.

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“We have had these commissioners sitting in their seats pretty much unelected,” said Brionté McCorkle, another plaintiff and the executive director of the nonprofit Georgia Conservation Voters. “They’re making incredibly important decisions that are impacting the lives of Georgians and also impacting the climate crisis.”

The five-member Public Service Commission has final approval over most steps taken by Georgia Power, the state’s largest electric utility, including how much the company charges for energy and how it makes that power. Since the cancellation of the 2022 elections, the commissioners have approved the construction of new natural gas turbines as well as bill increases to cover natural gas costs and construction of the newest nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle. Next year, they’ll make all-important decisions about Georgia Power’s future energy plans, including possible expansions of renewable energy and closure of coal plants, and the next several years of power rates — all before voters have the chance to send new representatives to the commission.

Under a state law passed this year, PSC elections would resume in 2025 with votes for two seats. The law lays out an election schedule for all five seats that would leave the current commissioners in power beyond their original six-year terms.

Your guide to the Georgia PSCGrist and WABE are collaborating to demystify the Georgia Public Service Commission through ongoing reporting, community workshops, printable resources, and local journalism training.

Explore more PSC coverage, including a glossary of terms to know and downloadable fact sheets.

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The plaintiffs are considering a challenge to that law, McCorkle said, though they’ve made no final decisions.

“We definitely feel like that is all very problematic,” she said of the law’s election schedule. “We’re gonna keep fighting for the people of Georgia.”

While McCorkle called the Supreme Court’s decision “a bummer,” she said she also felt “a little bit of relief” because there was no guarantee the high court would side with the plaintiffs.

Voting rights advocates are concerned about the implications of the 11th Circuit’s ruling, which didn’t weigh in on whether the plaintiffs had proven their votes were unfairly diluted. Rather, the appeals court argued a federal court can’t overrule the state’s choice to hold at-large elections because it would violate the “principles of federalism.”

“They endorsed the notion that the state has a vested interest in disenfranchising Black Georgians,” Woodall said. “For me, it is an endorsement that reflects over generations and generations of discrimination.”

Woodall, McCorkle, and others said they plan to continue educating Georgians about the PSC, as well as holding commissioners accountable.

“We’re gonna make sure people know who you are and what you do and that they can call you, call the commissioners, and make sure their voices are heard and represented in the decisions that they’re making,” McCorkle said of the commissioners.