BREAKING: PSC Grants Request to Refund $100M to Customers

BREAKING: PSC Grants Request to Refund $100M to Customers

BREAKING: PSC Grants Request to Refund $100M to Customers

On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, Gasp and 12 other organizations, led by Daniel Tait at Energy Alabama, petitioned the Alabama Public Service Commission to provide some relief to Alabamians struggling with ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19. We sent a letter urging the Commissioners to refund customers for the more than $100 million that we have overpaid to Alabama Power for fuel costs through May of this year.

“After COVID-19, many states around the country took action to refund customers for overpaid fuel costs,” Tait said in an email to AL.com. “Some customers may be months behind on their utility bills and the least we can do is to return their own money. We’re hopeful that the Alabama PSC will stand on the side of the people.”

The PSC initially balked at the idea, telling al.com that they could not take such action. But that was never the case, and the Commissioners apparently reconsidered. Today, they voted to do just what we asked. PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh released a statement to the blog Yellowhammer News immediately in which she estimates that the standard bill credit to be around $25.

“Returning $100 million to customers of Alabama Power is the right thing to do at just the right time,” she told the blog. “The coronavirus pandemic has had such a significant impact on Alabama families and small businesses. Putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Alabamians is one of the ways we can help on the road to recovery.”

We couldn’t agree more, Commissioner. This decision will help a lot of Alabamians. We’re elated that you took the advice of Gasp and our partner groups.

 

Read the July 15 letter below:

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Submitted via e-mail

Alabama Public Service Commission
Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh
Commissioner Jeremy H. Oden, Place 1
Commissioner Chris “Chip” Beeker, Place 2
100 North Union Street
P.O. Box 304260
Montgomery, AL 36130

On behalf of the members of the undersigned organizations, we urge you to take immediate action to refund customers for the amount they have overpaid Alabama Power for fuel, according to information filed in Docket 18148. As of May 2020, customers have overpaid Alabama Power for fuel by $112 million.1

Considering the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), customers need relief now more than ever. The Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) has a duty to all Alabamians to act immediately.

The PSC did not take official action to cease disconnections and late fees, despite requests from community organizations throughout the state. Georgia Power, the sister company of Alabama Power, is set to begin disconnections today, July 15 however, neither the Alabama PSC nor Alabama Power have communicated its plans to the public.

Thousands of Alabamians are at risk of disconnection and many are likely months behind on their utility bill payments. Data from North Carolina shows just under 800,000 residential customers and 60,000 non-residential customers eligible for disconnection and owing $253 million in payments.2

The PSC is able to provide some financial relief and Alabamians deserve decisive action from its elected leaders.

In Florida, the Public Service Commission ordered the state’s regulated utilities to refund fuel savings back to customers. Tampa Electric refunded customers $130 million3, Florida Power & Light issued customers a one-time bill credit of just over $204, and Duke Energy provided customers a one-time ~20% reduction in their monthly bill5.

We urge the Alabama Public Service Commission to issue an order to refund customers the $112 million in excess fuel costs they have paid Alabama Power. We further ask for an update from the Commission on its plans for utility disconnection and late fee policies through the end of the year.

As we stated in March of this year, the Alabama Public Service Commission has an opportunity to provide that reliability and stability to the people of Alabama during the one of the greatest public health and economic crises of our lifetime.

We still remain hopeful that you will yet rise to the challenge.

Regards,

Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Pastor, Saint Junia United Methodist Church
Carla Crowder, Executive Director, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
Rev. Carolyn Foster, Tri-Chair, Alabama Poor People’s Campaign
Michael Hansen, Executive Director, Gasp
Robyn Hyden, Executive Director, Alabama Arise
Cindy Lowry, Executive Director, Alabama Rivers Alliance
Rev. Michael Malcom, Executive Director, Alabama Interfaith Power and Light
Cara McClure and Eric Hall, Co-Founders, Black Lives Matter Birmingham
Charles Scribner, Executive Director, Black Warrior Riverkeeper
Stephen Stetson, Senior Campaign Representative, Sierra Club
Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer, Energy Alabama
Jessica Vosburgh, Executive & Legal Director, Adelante Alabama Worker Center


1 See: https://www.pscpublicaccess.alabama.gov/pscpublicaccess/PSC/PSCDocumentDetailsPage.aspx?DocumentId=0a56a562-f1e0-4303-b5b1-7f42e398e9db&Class=Filing
2 See: https://starw1.ncuc.net/NCUC/ViewFile.aspx?Id=24043568-beb8-47e7-bf32-723aed9ca95f
3 See: https://floridapolitics.com/archives/325342-teco-plans-to-pass-130m-in-fuel-savings-to-customers-to-help-offsetcoronavirus-losses
4 See: https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2020/03/30/fpl-bills-may-cut-may-doe-coronavirus-economics/5086973002/
5 https://www.wtsp.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/duke-energy-florida-lowering-may-bill-21-percent/67-f6658a1e-5a91-4a97-b654-f47363ca3147

Alabama’s Largest Electricity Consumer Commits to Sustainability Goal

Alabama’s Largest Electricity Consumer Commits to Sustainability Goal

Alabama’s Largest Electricity Consumer Commits to Sustainability Goal

Mia Murr, Intern at UAB, Volunteer at Gasp

I was born and raised most of my life in Norway, where I was early exposed to and educated about environmental issues and sustainability. It became a passion, as I understood the importance of conserving our earth and its resources. This laid the basis of my goal of pursuing a career in the field of green building design and sustainable development. I am a civil engineering student graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in April 2019. Because of my interest in sustainability, I was given the opportunity to be a part of Team Alabama in the 2017 Solar Decathlon, where international and national university teams presented their student designed sustainable solar houses.

In September 2018, I started an internship at the Planning, Design, and Construction department at UAB Facilities, where I work solely with a focus on UAB’s Sustainability Strategic Plan. My main responsibility has been to participate in the development of a roadmap for carbon reduction. After it became evident to me that there is lack of knowledge and commitment to sustainability in Alabama, I became a part of Gasp’s volunteer team to contribute in spreading awareness. For now, I will dig deeper into my experience at UAB.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is an urban research university, and one of the largest academic medical centers in the country. It is the single largest employer in the state, and the university provides an annual economic impact of $7.15 billion [1]. In the fall of 2018, enrollment broke new records for the third consecutive year, reaching 21,923 students [1]. As a growing, and highly influential institution, it is becoming increasingly important to step forward as a leading example in a state that lags behind most other states with regard to sustainability.

The focus of sustainability lays in “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. UAB’s sustainability program was established in 2013 and is lead by a team that proactively works to incorporate sustainability on campus. Five years after the program’s establishment, in the end of 2018, UAB publicized a Sustainability Strategic Plan, committing to a 2025 sustainability goal. The university is pursuing sustainability through incorporation of sustainable principles in operations, teaching, research, innovation, and community outreach. The strategic plan is divided into 13 focus categories, in which the overall aim is to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. By 2025, UAB,  the largest electricity consumer in the state wants to see a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions [2].

UAB Strategic Plan Objectives [2]

Air, Climate, & Energy

Establish a clean energy standard of 20 percent renewable energy sourcing by 2025 and cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve resiliency, and increase overall energy efficiency

Food & DiningSupport environmentally responsible dining operations, minimize food waste, and support local and sustainable food production
WaterPromote water conservation through efficient use and innovative management
BuildingsDesign, construct, and maintain buildings in ways that provide a safe and healthy indoor environment for users while simultaneously mitigating the building’s impact on the outdoor environment
TransportationDraft policies with five-year and ten-year benchmarks for sustainable transportation solutions that mitigate emissions, traffic congestion, and parking concerns
Grounds & WasteProduce a comprehensive waste management plan in partnership with external stakeholders to reduce disposal of waste in local landfills and develop the university grounds for ecological stewardship
CurriculumIntegrate sustainability as a key concept where applicable so that UAB students have the opportunity to gain experience through coursework
ResearchSupport interdisciplinary research, scholarship, and creative activities related to sustainability and encourage sustainable research practices
PurchasingDevelop sustainable purchasing practices and protocols to exercise UAB’s purchasing power toward maximizing environmental stewardship, protecting human health, and supporting local and global sustainability
Campus EngagementEffectively engage students, faculty, and staff in collaborative pursuit of UAB’s social, environmental, and economic sustainability goals by sharing information and inspiring active participation
Public EngagementProvide sustainability education and programs for a broad regional, national, and international community
DiversityPromote a more inclusive and equitable environment where faculty, staff, and students can thrive, and reinforce our commitment to working with local and diverse suppliers
Wellbeing & WorkSupport the links between healthy and sustainable lifestyles and their impacts on work life

The clock is ticking and in order to reach these goals by 2025, changes must occur now. Through my internship at the Planning, Design & Construction department at UAB, I have looked into the university’s carbon reduction potential by analyzing an energy study performed on 94 buildings. A carbon reduction roadmap will provide a business case for implementation of energy efficiency projects. It is achievable for the university to see significant greenhouse gas reduction by implementing a great number of energy savings projects. Although, there are several challenges hindering sustainable development, often related to lack of awareness of its importance.

Many Alabamians are not committed to making sustainability a priority. Unconsciously, most of us have a “it’s not-my-problem mentality”, making sustainable development a tough pull. This is why Gasp plays an important role, because creating awareness and educating the public about sustainability is critical. People must understand that reaching sustainability goals does not only benefit the environment, but will also improve human health and the prognosis for the future.

References

[1] UAB – The University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Did You Know”. 

[2] UAB – The University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Strategic Plan 2019-2025”.


 

Mia Murr is a volunteer for Gasp and advocate for environmental protection and sustainability. To learn more about how you can volunteer with us, visit gaspgroup.org/volunteer. 

Lawsuit Challenges TVA’s Attack on Solar Energy in the South

Lawsuit Challenges TVA’s Attack on Solar Energy in the South

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts
Howard Crystal, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 809-6926, [email protected]
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, (256) 812-1431, [email protected]
Erin Jensen, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0722, [email protected]
Michael Hansen, Gasp, (205) 701-4270, [email protected]
Jennifer Rennicks, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, (865) 235-1448, [email protected]

Lawsuit Challenges TVA’s Attack on Solar Energy in the South

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (September 5, 2018) — Five climate and energy-conservation groups today sued the Tennessee Valley Authority for imposing discriminatory electricity rates that discourage homeowners and businesses from investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Alabama, notes that the utility’s new fixed “grid-access charge” will, for the first time, require its customers to pay a mandatory electricity fee regardless of their energy usage. Such fixed fees make rooftop solar less cost-effective.

The utility is also reducing electricity rates for large businesses. This move encourages companies to continue relying on its fossil fuel-powered energy rather than investing in distributed solar. The new rates also cut costs for the biggest energy users, discouraging efficiency.

The utility’s board of directors, with a majority appointed by President Trump, has now given final approval to all of these rate changes.

“TVA’s outrageous new rates penalize people working hard to save energy and money while rewarding big companies that run up huge electricity bills,” said Howard Crystal, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This perverse plan forces customers to prop up dirty, outmoded power plants instead of transitioning to renewable power. We desperately need clean-energy progress and efficiency investments to protect our communities and the environment.”

As detailed in today’s lawsuit, the utility has failed to disclose the environmental impacts of these rate changes, in violation of federal law. The new rates will inevitably result in more energy generated by power plants that run on fossil fuels — creating unnecessary pollution and worsening the climate crisis. TVA must address the damage the new rates will cause in an environmental impact statement.

“TVA continues to lose its leadership position on renewable energy and energy efficiency. TVA’s rate changes are about one thing and one thing only,” said Daniel Tait, technical director for Energy Alabama. “Killing energy efficiency and renewable energy to protect its monopoly stranglehold on regular folks.”

“Clean, renewable energy like rooftop solar represents a tremendous opportunity in Alabama to create new jobs, generate homegrown energy, save customers and businesses money, and reduce impacts on human health,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “TVA’s so-called ‘grid access charge’ will disincentivize solar energy and all its benefits.”

“The TVA’s notoriously high bills already force working families and low-income households to choose between feeding their families and keeping the lights on,” said Damon Moglen, senior strategic advisor with Friends of the Earth. “Now customers are being forced to bolster the highly polluting fossil fuel industry by paying even more for their electric bills. We must end the TVA’s disastrous and unfair practices and transition to a clean energy system that is accessible and affordable to everyone.”

“TVA’s move to increase fixed fees on monthly bills is intended to undercut customers’ ability to control energy costs through energy efficiency and solar investments,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “TVA is trying to mislead people by talking about their ‘low rates’ but energy consumers don’t pay rates, they pay bills, which are calculated as a rate times consumption plus fixed fees. Customers in the TVA service territory have some of the highest bills in the United States. The devious ‘grid access charge’ will only accelerate the high-bills problem by increasing fixed fees and stifling efforts to control electric consumption by families and small businesses, leading to higher costs and more pollution. This legal action seeks to educate people about what is happening to them each and every month.”

TVA is a federally owned corporation and the nation’s largest public power provider. It generates electricity for more than 9 million customers in Tennessee, northern Alabama, northeastern Mississippi, southwestern Kentucky, and portions of northern Georgia, western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia.

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Sign the Petition: Solar for All Alabamians

Show your support of solar for all Alabamians. We’ll let you know about further actions you can take to let our leaders know that Alabama citizens should have more choice and lower costs when it comes to solar.

Gasp Announces New Solar Discount Partnership with Eagle Solar & Light

Gasp Announces New Solar Discount Partnership with Eagle Solar & Light

Gasp Announces New Solar Discount Partnership with Eagle Solar & Light

In an effort to expand access to clean, renewable energy in Alabama, Gasp today announced a new partnership with Eagle Solar & Light. Under the agreement, the solar energy company will offer a 5% discount on residential and commercial solar installations to members who join or renew their Gasp membership with a donation of $50 or more.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to announce this unique partnership with Eagle Solar & Light,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “In order to solve many of the urgent issues facing our state like pollution and climate change, we need to dramatically increase deployment of clean, renewable energy like solar across Alabama.”

Founded in 2009, Gasp is a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing air pollution through education and advocacy. Increasing demand for and access to affordable clean energy like solar is a vital part of the group’s work to reduce pollution — including greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel based energy.

Click here to join or renew your Gasp membership.

“We’re proud to partner with a community-based organization like Gasp,” said Eagle Solar & Light Founder Sam Yates. “Solar power is not only the energy of future, it’s also one of the best ways to reduce our impact on the planet because solar panels don’t emit pollution.”

Eagle Solar & Light, also headquartered in Birmingham, was founded in 2016 by Sam Yates. The company is leading provider of modern energy solutions, like solar and LED lighting, in Alabama. The company recently opened an office in North Carolina.

The savings from the discount will help to offset some of Alabama’s anti-solar policy barriers facing homeowners and businesses. With the new partnership, Eagle Solar & Light will also donate a portion of the proceeds from each project back to Gasp.

For more information, please contact Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen at 205-701-4270 or [email protected], or Eagle Solar & Light Marketing & Advertising Director Richard Lewis at ​[email protected] or 205-202-2208.

Mayor Randall Woodfin Pledges to Transition Birmingham to 100% Sustainable Energy

Mayor Randall Woodfin Pledges to Transition Birmingham to 100% Sustainable Energy

Mayor Randall Woodfin Pledges to Transition Birmingham to 100% Sustainable Energy

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (June 7, 2018) — Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin became the first mayor of an Alabama city to sign Gasp’s “Mayors for 100% Sustainable Energy Pledge” (signed document attached). Gasp defines sustainable energy as energy generated from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, that results in little to no emissions.

The commitment is part of the organization’s Alabama Cities for Sustainable Energy campaign, which also includes a draft resolution for town councils to use to craft their own pro-renewable energy policies. Birmingham City Council has yet to adopt such a resolution. The pledge asks mayors to affirm the following:

  • I believe sustainable energy is good for the City of [fill in the blank] and the State of Alabama because it will create economic development opportunities and job.
  • I believe sustainable energy will help the City of [fill in the blank] and the State of Alabama become a more just and equitable place to live, work, and learn.
  • I believe the overwhelming scientific consensus of anthropogenic climate change and that it is an urgent global challenge.
  • I believe that local, community-focused solutions are essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • I believe that it is important for the City of [fill in the blank] to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency, solar, wind, and pollution-free electric public transportation.

“From the governor’s mansion in Montgomery to city halls across Alabama, there has been a baffling lack of action in this state to address the human causes of climate change and to mitigate the impacts,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen.

“Climate change is the most urgent crisis facing the world today. Future generations will be harmed by our leaders’ inaction today. We are thankful that Mayor Woodfin is not only affirming that he believes the science behind climate change, but also that he is committed to taking action to ensure a just and equitable transition away from a fossil-fuel economy that disproportionately harms the poor and communities of color.”

Mayor Woodfin signed the pledge on March 14, 2018 — the day before the new mayor unveiled his transition team’s report called “The Woodfin Way.” That report included a commitment to invest in renewable energy, as well as with several other recommendations for environmental justice and sustainability projects.

Last year, the Center for Public Integrity and the Weather Channel reported that in 2015 Alabama Power’s James H. Miller Jr. Electric Generating Plant just 16 miles northwest of Birmingham was “the worst greenhouse gas polluter in America.” The plant releases more than 19 million metric tons of greenhouse gases every year.

Overall, Alabama ranks 49th in solar energy jobs per capita, yet the state ranks in the top 20 for solar potential. Alabama gets 60 percent of its electricity from fossil-fuel-based energy sources and less than .2 percent from wind and solar. The disparity becomes even wider for Alabama Power customers.

Resources

Media Contact

Michael Hansen, Executive Director
[email protected] or 205-701-4270

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About Gasp

Headquartered in Birmingham, Gasp is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit health advocacy organization working to reduce air pollution in Alabama through education and advocacy. Our vision is a healthy, just, and sustainable Alabama. We strive to educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality and to encourage community leaders to serve as role models for clean air and clean energy development. gaspgroup.org

Frank Stitt’s Secret: Eating from the Earth

Frank Stitt’s Secret: Eating from the Earth

Frank Stitt’s Secret: Eating from the Earth

Katie Rogers

Katie Rogers is a Birmingham-based writer, feng shui consultant, and filmmaker. You can watch her documentary “CarLess in LA” currently on YouTube). She was happy to attend the E.O. Wilson Lecture with Harvard alumna Gasp Board Member Karen Shepard (who happens to be a climate change expert and Huffington Post writer) and Gasp Outreach Director Kirsten Bryant. Together,  they collectively gushed over the environmental slant of Frank Stitt’s lecture (AND the olive oil cake).

When a friend asked me to be her guest at the Harvard Club’s annual E.O. Wilson Distinguished Lecture Series, where there would be a “Conversation with Chef Frank Stitt,” I was all in. After all, everyone in Birmingham knows the name Frank Stitt. He’s the head chef and owner of four of Birmingham’s most beloved restaurants: Chez Fon Fon, Bottega, Bottega Café, and the now legendary, Highlands Bar and Grill. I thought it would be fun to hear what he had to say, and of course, there was the lure of good food, wine, and an interesting crowd.

Coincidentally, just days after the invitation, Highlands Bar and Grill won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant. Highlands beat out competition in New York, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago for this prestigious honor as the best restaurant in the United States.  Score for Highlands. Score for Birmingham. Score for Alabama.

Being somewhat of foodie, I was now especially excited to hear him speak. However, the last thing I expected to hear from him is that his stance on food is actually a profound environmental message.

What I gathered from the lively dialogue between he and Catherine Sloss Jones is that his secret to great cuisine is the integrity of the ingredients. Furthermore, he suggested that where there are great ingredients, there is healthy earth.

Images: (1) Katie Rogers, Frank Stitt, Pardis Stitt, Karen Shepard and Kirsten Bryant; (2) Gasp Board Member, Karen Shepard and Outreach Director, Kirsten Bryant, discuss the connection between food and a healthy planet with Chef Frank Stitt; and (3) Strawberry and mascarpone olive oil cake made by James Beard award-winning pastry chef Dolester Miles.

He mentioned how pesticides and herbicides and other chemicals were adversely affecting the “vitality” of the soil and therefore the taste and texture of food. He mused about farming “going back to a time before the 1950s” and the importance of farmer’s markets. When asked a question about where he sees the culinary experience going in the next fifty to sixty years, he commented that he sees people eating more grains and vegetables and less protein.

To summarize: he believes in eating from the Earth. He also believes that to eat (well) from the Earth, the Earth must be not only intact, but thriving.

Delightfully, Frank Stitt’s commentary was far from preachy. In actuality, I’m not sure he would even call himself an environmentalist; his environmentalism is more a means to an end. He sincerely wants the best of the best on the table. He wants to provide a dining experience that has the potential to be a thing of “beauty.” His love of cooking is evident; his passion is food, plain and simple. One could almost feel a tear coming to his eye when he talked about the “best green bean.”

His success in the culinary world doesn’t come from science experiments or performance art in the kitchen, but can be boiled down to good, old-fashioned farming and a good, old-fashioned respect for the Earth.

What interests me in Stitt’s farm-to-table comments is that it could and should inspire foodies and environmentalists alike to the importance of taking a holistic view when it comes to considering the state of our planet. Food is plant life. And plants depend on air, water, soil, and the sun to grow and thrive. Yet the rise in the planet’s temperatures and the severity of today’s natural disasters are changing our watersheds, impacting how soil releases and traps carbon dioxide, therefore tipping the quality of our air, which of course in turn, traps more greenhouse gases so that the cycle perpetuates itself.   It’s safe to state bluntly that food – and food culture — is at the mercy of climate change and how the Earth’s systems interact with each other.

Sure, Frank Stitt is all about the ironed linens and the perfectly plated meals, but beyond that, he is really and truly interested in dirt. I wonder — could Frank Stitt’s message have the potential to reach an audience that may have turned the other cheek to the notion of climate change?

While my environmentalist self wants to shout out, “Duh, taking care of the planet means better food. Jeez!” my foodie self wants to say between mouthfuls of dessert, “Well, if caring for the environment means maintaining the awesomeness of strawberry and mascarpone olive oil cake from Dolester Miles [pastry chef at Highlands and winner of the 2018 James Beard award for most outstanding pastry chef in America], then well, yeah, please, I’m absolutely for it.”

Because, YUM.

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