- Associated Press - Sunday, July 6, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - It has been an interesting two years for Terry Dunn.

The member of the Public Service Commission drew push back when he sought for formal hearings on the rates charged by utility companies.

Now, Dunn could find himself unseated after this month’s runoff. Dunn and former Greene County Commission Chairman Chris “Chip” Beeker face each other in the Republican July 15 runoff for Public Service Commission Place 2. There is no Democrat in the race.

Dunn said he has no regrets.

“That’s what I ran on, being someone here to look out for the consumer,” Dunn said.

“Some call me a populist, and maybe I am. I’m looking out for the people of Alabama,” Dunn said.

Dunn was a construction company owner in Southside when he ran for the PSC in 2010, defeating Democratic incumbent Susan Parker. He said he became concerned that Alabama Power’s was allowed too high of a return.

“I got to looking at the different rates around the states. I noticed Alabama Power’s profit margin was a little higher than everybody else’s,” Dunn said.

Dunn had urged the regulatory board to hold the first formal rate hearings in 30 years. His two fellow commissioners, also Republicans, disagreed and the board held informal reviews. He said a “protest” outside one of the hearings turned out to be an event staged by political opponents trying to paint Dunn as an environmentalist - a label that can harm candidates in this conservative state.

“All I did is come in and ask the question, ‘Can we get the rates down?’” Dunn said.

The PSC did vote in 2013 to base Alabama Power’s rates on weighted cost of equity rather than return on equity, which has been used for three decades. The Power Company said that should keep rates flat through 2014 and reduce the size of future increases.

Beeker was a member of the Greene County Commission for 20 years. He owns Beeker Catfish and Cattle Farms in Eutaw.

He ran for the PSC in 2010 but lost the GOP primary to Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, who’s now the commission president.

“No. 1 rates need to be affordable,” Beeker said.

Beeker said the state also needs healthy utilities for service reliability, noting Alabama Power’s swift response to the Tuscaloosa tornado outbreak and other natural disasters that caused vast power outages.

Beeker disagreed with Dunn’s request for formal rate hearings.

“I think there needed to be an awful lot of debate and discussion and meeting and on and on before,” Beeker said.

Asked if Alabama Power’s rate of return is too high, Beeker said he needs more information before making a decision.

Beeker has spent part of his campaign lashing out a President Barack Obama and proposed standards for coal-fired nuclear plants.

Beeker acknowledged that the PSC has no role in federal environmental regulation. He noted the importance of a power plant to the economy of Greene County.

“Without it, we’re gone. You can pull the plug on us,” Beeker said.

Dunn has accused Beeker of being Alabama Power’s chosen candidate. Beeker responded by saying he is “not a lackey for the power company,” and added that he would benefit by lower rates for his business.

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said the company isn’t, and has never been, involved with Public Service Commission campaigns and elections.

Beeker has outpaced Dunn in fundraising and has received contributions from the coal industry. Dunn said he considers that a conflict of interest because of the ties between and utilities and coal. Beeker rejected the accusation.

Beeker has picked up the backing his two former opponents who did not make the Republican runoff.

Media production company owner Jonathan Barbee, who finished third in the primary, and Alabama Minority GOP chairman Phillip Brown, who finished fourth, have endorsed Beeker.

Barbee called Beeker the remaining candidate that can fight what they called an environmentalist agenda.

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