GASP, Energy Alabama Appeal Alabama PSC’s Approval of $1+ Billion Gas Expansion

GASP, Energy Alabama Appeal Alabama PSC’s Approval of $1+ Billion Gas Expansion

GASP, Energy Alabama Appeal Alabama PSC’s Approval of $1+ Billion Gas Expansion

Energy Alabama and GASP, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, are appealing the Public Service Commission’s approval of Alabama Power’s petition for its single largest capacity increase ever, with a price tag for customers of over $1.1 billion.

The groups have filed an appeal in state court challenging the Commission’s decision allowing Alabama Power to increase its natural gas capacity by over 1800 megawatts, including building a new gas plant at the Barry Electric Generating Plant in Mobile County, while failing to approve a proposal to add 400 megawatts of solar plus battery energy storage projects.

In September, the groups petitioned the Commission to reconsider its determination that this capacity increase is needed, especially in light of the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic; its decision to saddle customers instead of utility shareholders with the risk that the assets will become stranded; and its denial of the solar plus storage projects, which the utility’s own analysis showed had the most value for customers. The Commission denied the petition.

Starting January 1, Alabama Power’s electric rates are increasing for all 1.48 million residential, commercial, and industrial customers, raising the average residential monthly bill by about $4. As a result of the new natural gas capacity, bills are expected to increase further starting in 2023.

“Alabamians already pay some of the highest energy bills in the country and the pandemic has only worsened the financial hardships many are facing,” said Keith Johnston, Director of SELC’s Birmingham office. “Now the Commission is allowing Alabama Power to go forward with an unjustified, massive amount of new capacity that will further increase electricity rates, putting added strain on customers.”

The Alabama Attorney General’s office raised concerns in the Commission proceedings that the proposed gas plants could become stranded or uneconomic as a result of new emission standards or changes in technology, and recommended that the Commission impose a condition requiring that Alabama Power and its shareholders bear any stranded costs associated with its proposal instead of customers.

In its final order, the Commission ignored the Attorney General’s recommendation and failed to set any conditions on its approval, concluding it would be “inequitable” to burden Alabama Power shareholders with stranded asset risk, even though shareholders reap substantial profits from self-build assets like Barry Unit 8.

“The Commission failed to act in the public interest by approving unnecessary, expensive projects while leaving more affordable options on the table,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama. “To make matters worse, the Commission has rubberstamped an enormous transfer of risk from utility shareholders to customers.”

Alabama remains the only state in the Southern Company territory, which includes Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, that prevents the public from any meaningful participation in the energy planning process.

“Alabamians deserve to have an open and transparent regulatory process, more information around how their energy decisions are being made, and the opportunity to provide input to ensure decisions are made in our state’s best interest,” said Michael Hansen, Executive Director of GASP. “When that transparency is missing from the energy decision-making process, we end up with unjust results where utility profits are given priority over people.”

BACKGROUND

In early March 2020 the Alabama Public Service Commission heard testimony from 15 witnesses concerning Alabama Power’s request to increase its total power-producing capabilities by almost 20%, despite the utility’s previous assertions that it wouldn’t need new electric generation sources until 2035.

On behalf of Energy Alabama and GASP, the Southern Environmental Law Center intervened in the docket to advocate for responsible, cost-effective investments to meet any need for additional capacity on Alabama Power’s system.

Energy Alabama and GASP’s experts exposed significant flaws in the planning and forecasting methods Alabama Power used to justify its claimed need. In written and oral testimony, the experts pointed to the utility’s long-standing efforts to profit from unnecessary and expensive new generation assets that increase costs for customers.

The groups also made the case that Alabama Power’s plan lacks significant detail about the cheapest, least cost resources, such as solar and energy efficiency.  Alabama Power’s own analysis showed that solar plus battery storage are the least cost resources in its proposal and provide more value to customers.

Energy Alabama and GASP’s proposed order details their position based on the record developed during the hearing.

The groups also filed a motion for permission to file supplemental briefing regarding how the Covid-19 pandemic may impact the need for and timing of the resources proposed in Alabama Power’s petition. These issues were not addressed during the March hearings, which was limited to testimony filed long before the pandemic took hold.

Energy Alabama and GASP filed a supplemental brief arguing that the Commission should not rush forward with a decision without fully assessing the pandemic’s impacts and resulting economic fallout on the utility’s petition.

Following the PSC staff’s recommendations to approve the majority of projects that Alabama Power is seeking to build, buy or contract, the Commission voted unanimously in June 2020 to adopt the staff recommendations in their entirety.

The only resources the Commission refused to approve were the proposals for solar plus battery storage, by far the most economic options according to Alabama Power’s own analysis.  Instead, the Commissioners signed off on the staff’s recommendation to evaluate the solar and battery proposals in another existing docket. The Commission issued a final order in August.

GASP and Energy Alabama filed a petition for reconsideration and rehearing in September, urging the Commission to reconsider Alabama Power’s need determination and to grant a rehearing to consider updated testimony in light of the changed circumstances resulting in lessened electric demand. The Commission denied the groups’ motion for reconsideration and rehearing in December.

Press Contacts:

Emily Driscoll, Southern Environmental Law Center, [email protected], 404-641-8108

Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, [email protected], 256-812-1431

Michael Hansen, GASP, [email protected], 205-746-4666

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About GASP

About GASP

GASP is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to advance healthy air and environmental justice in the greater-Birmingham area through education, advocacy, and collaboration. We strive to reduce exposure to air pollution, educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality, and encourage community leaders to serve as role models by advocating for clean air and clean energy. GASPgroup.org

About Energy Alabama

About Energy Alabama

Energy Alabama is a membership-based non-profit organization accelerating Alabama’s transition to sustainable energy. We accomplish our mission by educating at all levels, informing smart energy policy, building the next generation workforce, and providing technical assistance to deploy more sustainable energy. We believe in sustainable energy for all. energyalabama.org

About Southern Environmental Law Center

About Southern Environmental Law Center

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

 

The Importance of Telling the Whole Story

The Importance of Telling the Whole Story

The Importance of Telling the Whole Story

When I call my parents in Virginia or my college friends in Chicago, they always want to hear about my work with GASP.

“How’s your internship going?”

“Tell me about what you do!”

I get really excited about the opportunity to talk to them about environmental social issues that they might not have to think about on a regular basis. As I have been shaped by my environmental studies, I believe that people can be changed by the story of Birmingham and the 35th Avenue Superfund Site.

I’ve also been realizing that, after I tell people about the air and soil contamination issues facing 35th Avenue as a result of racism and resource exploitation, people first respond appropriately: “Wow, that’s terrible!” Oftentimes, the conversation ends there. I’m left with a bitter taste in my mouth, almost as if there is something unsaid, like, “Wow, that’s terrible, we’re so glad that that is not us.

This is almost always how 35th Avenue’s story gets told: in documentaries, in how we explain to volunteers why we’re giving away food at our pop-up markets, in the tours that neighborhood leaders give to point out the coke plants and insufficient infrastructure, in the air monitoring studies that we conduct. Many of our friends who live there would like to move away, and only haven’t because they don’t have the resources. But not everyone tells the story that way, some people want to stay. When I first started working with GASP, I couldn’t understand that. There’s elevated contamination in the area! How could they disregard “the science?” Though I told myself that residents of the area must know much better than me what they needed, deep down, I questioned if they were just not willing to hear the story.

In late September, Nina and I went canvassing in Fairmont to hand out flyers in preparation for our North Birmingham Right to Breathe caravan. It felt good to be outside and walking around especially since I had been feeling down that week: two months spent adjusting to pandemic life in a new city had finally taken its toll. It was also an absolutely beautiful day, with bright sunshine and wind that made the big trees roar. I was struck upon turning a corner to see a house up to its windows in fresh blue hydrangeas, the same kind that my grandma loves. The afternoon was full of sweet moments like that: noticing fresh paint on someone’s porch, learning the names of trees from Nina, meeting a kind lady who brought us water bottles from her fridge, and reveling in the quietness of the neighborhood. If 35th Ave is anything, it is first and foremost people’s home, a place where families hang out on porches on nice fall days, grandmothers plant flowers, and people tell their own stories.

I remembered this day when I read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “Nikki Rosa,” in which she writes about how hard it is to tell the complicated story of growing up Black in America. Yes, there is hardship, but more important to her is that people talk about the “happy birthdays and very good // Christmases.” I really recommend reading the full thing, but hear her conclusion,

…I really hope no white person ever has cause
to write about me
because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll
probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy

We can all identify ourselves in Giovanni’s poem because we all want our full stories told. We have all been labeled without being listened to. I am living this now in my personal life as I get to know people in Birmingham. I hope that I will not just be known for being homesick and burnt-out, but for the things I am when I am at my best — a baker, a choral singer, and a good friend. We all want to be seen and cherished. Yet, Giovanni doesn’t deny that being fully known includes telling what we struggle with; she agrees that her childhood was “hard.” I need friends who will see my struggle to find belonging here and grieve with me then challenge me to keep going. We need people who know our full stories and stick with us through it all.

But furthermore, I think we should identify ourselves in Giovanni’s poem as the person who has reduced someone else’s story to their struggle. I am guilty of telling the story of 35th Ave without including the hydrangeas or colorful porches. We need to talk about how Fred Shuttlesworth was from Collegeville and how some of the best environmental organizers of our time are rising out of Harriman Park. We may need to go on more walks on beautiful fall days in Fairmont. We can’t get close to helping people until we see them for everything – the good and the bad. While we won’t diminish the seriousness of the contamination they have to bear, we also cannot afford to miss all that we must cherish in 35th Ave.

Erin Rhodes

Erin Rhodes

EJ Intern

Erin is studying environmental science with a certificate in Human Needs and Global Resources at Wheaton College, a liberal arts school in the Chicago area. She moved to Birmingham this summer and is assisting with environmental justice outreach in North Birmingham. Erin has been instrumental in coordinating the North Bham Pop-Up Market in Harriman Park and Acipco-Finley.

Meet Katie Mesa, Fall Intern (Wheaton College)

Meet Katie Mesa, Fall Intern (Wheaton College)

Meet Katie Mesa, Fall Intern (Wheaton College)

What is your major at and why did you choose it?

I am majoring in environmental science with minors in math and Spanish at Wheaton College. I chose to major in environmental science because of its intersectionality with other fields and because of my passion for sustainability.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

Still trying to figure that out, but I hope to continue working in public health and environmental justice.

What is your dream job?

My dream job is running my own sustainable fiber farm and making/selling handspun yarn and textiles.

What do you hope to learn while interning with GASP?

I hope to learn more about community engagement within the environmental policy process as well as to see what environmental justice looks like at the grassroots level.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?

Air pollution is an inescapable kind of pollution. There are ways to gain access to clean water and clean food, but people do not get a choice in what quality of air they breathe. This is what makes the polluting of minority communities so insidious. Everyone has a right to breathe clean air.

What is your favorite food?

Katsu curry, dragonfruit, Thai iced tea, and pretty much everything my brother cooks

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy doing a multitude of different crafts such as knitting, crochet, embroidery, needle felting, and jewelry making. I also have a passion for music; I’ve played harp for 16 years and I am a verified hand bell choir veteran.

Who or what are your influences?

My Catholic faith is very important to me. As such, my main influences are St. Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Workers movement.

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

  • In high school I worked at a reptile sanctuary with very large snakes.
  • I have dyed my hair every color of the rainbow.
  • In my middle school production of Wizard of Oz I played a tree.
Michael Hansen

Michael Hansen

CEO

Michael joined GASP as communications specialist in April 2013 and now serves as the Executive Director. Previously, he was director of public relations for The Modern Brand Company where he managed communications for the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership’s Champions for Health campaign. Before joining The Modern Brand, Michael served as public relations and marketing coordinator at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Michael has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network. Michael worked tirelessly for years to pass Birmingham’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which passed in 2017 and led to the creation of the Birmingham Human Rights Commission in 2019.

Contact Michael
[email protected] | 205.701.4270

Meet Ugo Ejidoh, Fall MPH Intern (UAB)

Meet Ugo Ejidoh, Fall MPH Intern (UAB)

Meet Ugo Ejidoh, Fall MPH Intern (UAB)

What is your major at and why did you choose it? 

My major is in public health, and I have chosen it because of the growing concerns regarding global environmental issues and disease epidemics. Let me also add that I am a Nigerian trained pharmacist. I have realized that pharmacists’ role has gradually moved from the traditional function of just dispensing medication to more direct patient care and disease management practices, hence my reason for getting a master’s in public health.

Where do you go to high school?

I went to a Turkish high school in Nigeria named the Nigerian Turkish International College. I studied there from grade 7 through grade 12. In the Nigerian school system grade, 7-9 is referred to as Junior high school, and 10-12 is referred to as senior high school.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

After completing my master’s degree in public health at UAB, I hope to get a job at a governmental agency or health care organization where I can put my knowledge to good use. After that, I plan to further my education to the Ph.D. level.

What is your dream job?

As a pharmacist and public health professional, my job intersects at a point, and so I would like to use both degrees to my advantage. Besides dispensing medications, I would like to be a medical counselor, an educator, and an environmental advocate.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp?

Gasp is an organization that is concerned with advancing healthy air and promoting environmental justice. I believe that the organization’s mission is in line with some of my goals. I hope to learn how they strive to achieve their goals and hopefully use it to bring environmental justice to certain disadvantaged communities in Nigeria.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?

I come from a country where people think it is normal to live in a polluted environment, so it is not just about the minority communities suffering disproportionately but also the whole country. As a child, whenever I went on vacation outside Africa, I always noticed that other countries’ atmosphere was clear. I would ask my parents why the atmosphere always looked dull back home, but they will laugh and say, “because this is a white man’s land.” Little did I know that reason for the hazy atmosphere was industrial pollution, generator fumes, uncontrolled bush burning, broken transportation systems, untarred roads, etc. I think it is safe to say that majority of the population in Nigeria is exposed to unhealthy air. My goal is to reduce air pollution in Nigeria through education, advocacy, and policy amendment.

What is your favorite food?

My favorite food is spaghetti. I enjoy it however it is being made.

What are your hobbies?

  • I love playing board games
  • I enjoy cooking sometimes
  • I love traveling

Who or what are your influences?

I like to have positive people around me because I am easily influenced by people or the things I watch on TV. I notice that I pick up a few habits after spending time with some of my close friends.

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

  • I speak a bit of Turkish, which I learned in high school.
  • My favorite color is white.
  • I have never tried eating a crab as much as I want to.
Michael Hansen

Michael Hansen

CEO

Michael has been with Gasp since April 2013 and now serves as the Executive Director. Previously, he was director of public relations for The Modern Brand Company where he managed communications for the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership’s Champions for Health campaign. Before joining The Modern Brand, Michael served as public relations and marketing coordinator at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.Michael has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network. Michael worked tirelessly for years to pass Birmingham’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which passed in 2017 and led to the creation of the Birmingham Human Rights Commission in 2019.

Contact Michael
[email protected] | 205.701.4270

Our Brains, Air Pollution and Hurricanes

Our Brains, Air Pollution and Hurricanes

Our Brains, Air Pollution and Hurricanes

After a morning of protesting Governor Ivey’s inaction on the contaminated 35th Ave Site in North Birmingham, we sped down I-65 towards home. As we drove, we talked about how well the protest had gone and wondered if our representatives would get it, how could they not in the first place? At the same time, Hurricane Laura, estimated to be the most severe Gulf storm since Katrina, was bearing down on Louisiana. “Climate change is terrible,” we said, knowing that as ocean water gets warmer, it will incubate stronger and stronger storms. If only people would start taking climate change more seriously; why does it have to take a catastrophe for us to realize that our lifestyles are not justifiable anymore? It wasn’t until then that I felt my foot on the gas pedal, and as the weight of the statement settled in, my hands gripped the steering wheel of the SUV a little tighter. “Yeah, climate change is terrible.”

Lake Charles, Louisiana. USA – September 6, 2020: Hurricane Laura. Destruction from strong winds. Upside down RV and a pile of rubbish by the road

It’s easy for us to call hurricanes emergencies. We are good at sending the National Guard, raising money in our churches, keeping up with the news, and when we see images of shredded houses and devastated families, our hearts actually break. We can grasp that this event had real costs for real people. But do we actually think about climate change as an emergency in the same way? Was my heart breaking for all the drives I took between my home in Virginia to my college in Chicago? All my Amazon Prime packages? All the bananas I ate from Colombia? All the time I spend on my laptop even now? Maybe a little, but no, it’s hard for me to always think about my daily life in terms of the big scheme of things, even though I am studying Environmental Science at college!

Considering our history, I think that that makes a lot of sense. Our ancestors spent most of their time worrying about where their next meal was coming from. Planning for a meal in the next 100 years, simply wasn’t on the table. But frankly, in our time, our survival may well depend on that ability. Living as if climate change were a real emergency, and demanding policy changes that will protect ourselves not just tomorrow but in 100 years, is the psychological challenge of our era.

In the same way, I think we also have to call the contamination of the 35th Ave Superfund Site a real emergency. It’s hard to imagine the slow damage inside lungs by invisible pollutant particles, let alone wrap my mind around the magnitude of over 100 years of industry in North Birmingham when I am only 22. What makes it harder is that because I don’t live there, I don’t see these costs the way I see images of a hurricane-torn Louisiana. I promise you Governor Ivey hasn’t seen it, and you may not have either. But the residents of Harriman Park, Collegeville and Fairmont are paying the real costs of poor pollution enforcement and political corruption right now.

We need to rise to the challenge of our time, knowing the limits of our minds, to do everything we can to help ourselves grasp the real costs of inaction. We need to start calling climate change, and the 35th Ave contamination, emergencies so we can start acting like they are. Our survival, together, depends on it.

Erin Rhodes

Erin Rhodes

Intern, HNGR

Erin has moved to Birmingham for the semester to volunteer with Gasp as an Environmental Justice Intern through Wheaton College’s Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program. You can read more about Erin here.

Email Erin

Meet Madison Cumby, Fall Legal Intern (Samford)

Meet Madison Cumby, Fall Legal Intern (Samford)

Meet Madison Cumby, Fall Legal Intern (Samford)

What is your major at and why did you choose it? (for college students)           

Before starting law school, I earned my B.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in Policy from Samford University. I graduated in May 2018.  I am now a 3L at Cumberland School of law. I will graduate in May 2021.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

I hope to enter into a Federal Clerkship after graduation.       

What is your dream job?

I’m still trying to figure that out.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp?

I hope to learn more about Environmental Law from the perspective of advocating on behalf of the environment. I hope to gain a greater understanding of environmental issue and concerns in Alabama.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?

Air pollution poses a large number of known and unknown risks to the health of communities with poor air quality as well as the harm that it causes to the plants and animals that live in the area. I am concerned about the damage that would be caused if air quality is not more closely monitored and improved.

What is your favorite food?

Mexican

What are your hobbies?

Archery, dog shows, baking, reading, and hiking

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

I grew up in Los Angeles, CA

Kirsten Bryant

Kirsten Bryant

Deputy Director, Outreach

Kirsten has been part of the organization since its inception. After a year of volunteering to help establish Gasp, Kirsten accepted the role of executive director in 2009. It is Kirsten’s hope that future generations will inherit a healthy Alabama where clean air and water are valued and protected.

Contact Kirsten
[email protected] | 205.701.4271