PSC Sides with Alabama Power, Increases Solar Charge

PSC Sides with Alabama Power, Increases Solar Charge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PSC Dismisses Challenge Against Alabama Power’s Discriminatory Solar Charge, Approves Increase

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Today the Alabama Public Service Commission dismissed a challenge against Alabama Power’s discriminatory solar charge, which, since 2013, has limited the rights of Alabama homeowners and businesses to create solar power on their own properties and reduce their electric bills.

Over two years after the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of Gasp, and Ragsdale LLC, on behalf of two private Alabama citizens, initially challenged Alabama Power’s unjust rate treatment of solar customers, the Commission has granted the utility’s motion to dismiss the original complaint and approved its proposal to increase the existing charge.

Recent decisions in other states have come to a different result. Those decisions have often rejected, or required a review of, these types of charges. For example, the Alabama Commission’s decision follows a recent ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court to strike down a similar solar charge as discriminatory. SELC alerted the Commission to the Kansas decision in May.

“Today’s decision by the Public Service Commission hurts Alabama Power customers and the state,” said Keith Johnston, Office Director of SELC’s Alabama office. “As the nation moves forward with cleaner energy and the jobs that it creates, the Commissioners and Alabama Power continue to do everything they can to stop it. Not only do they allow this unfair charge to citizens to continue, they increase it.”

“Given the overwhelming attendance at November’s public hearing, it’s clear that access to solar is incredibly important to the people of Alabama, and the economic growth, bill relief, and energy choice that come with it,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “It is unfortunate that the Commission has once again put the interests of Alabama Power over cleaner, more affordable choices that would greatly benefit Alabamians, our economy, and the environment.”

The groups are currently considering their options and assessing next steps. For more information, contact Emily Driscoll (Southern Environmental Law Center) ([email protected], 404-641-8108) or Michael Hansen (Gasp) at ([email protected], 205-746-4666).

Background

One of the highest backup fees, or “standby charges,” of any regulated utility nationwide, Alabama Power’s unjustified and discriminatory monthly fee on customers who install and use solar panels to power some of their energy needs at their homes, businesses, and schools charge has impeded Alabama’s solar progress.

Based on the size of a homeowner’s solar system, the $5 per kilowatt monthly fee is added on top of other charges that these customers continue to pay each month to Alabama Power. For the average 5 kilowatt rooftop solar system, this charge results in an additional $300 charge per year, or approximately $9,000 over the life of the panels, slashing solar customers’ average savings in half.

In April 2018, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of Gasp, and Ragsdale LLC, on behalf of two private Alabama citizens, jointly filed a complaint asking the Alabama Public Service Commission to determine that Alabama Power’s rate treatment of solar customers is unfair, contrary to public interest, and otherwise unlawful.

Alabama Power filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in June 2018, as well as a separate filing in Docket No. U-4226 proposing modifications that seek to increase Rate Rider RGB from $5 to $5.42 per kilowatt each month. This new docket was deemed an “informal” docket under PSC rules because it was an increase to an existing rate.

In July 2018, the groups filed a motion to intervene in the informal rate docket for Alabama Power’s proposed modifications to increase Rate Rider RGB, while simultaneously seeking a suspension of that informal rate review pending the outcome of our formal complaint. The groups also opposed Alabama Power’s motion to dismiss, and amended their initial complaint to include claims related to the Company’s proposed increases in the informal rate docket.

Over a year later, in August 2019, the groups filed a reply to Alabama Power’s responses to the Public Service Commission staff’s data requests filed in late July 2019. The filing explained that the utility’s responses to staff’s questions confirm that there is no justification for the discriminatory monthly fee in either its original form that had been in place for over six years, or the proposed increases to the charge.

The filing also challenged Alabama Power’s estimate that gathering the necessary data and completing a sufficiently detailed analysis in an effort to prove the charge is justified would take up to three years, andargued that solar customers should not have to pay the charge while this analysis takes place.

Nearly a year after the groups filed a motion requesting a hearing, the Commission held a hearing in November 2019, which drew such a large crowd that many attendees had to stand in the aisles or the adjoining room to hear testimony. Neither Alabama Power attorneys nor the Commission staff asked any questions of the plaintiffs’ expert witness. The administrative law judge adjourned the hearing announcing that a decision would be issued during a regularly scheduled meeting and would be made public on the agenda in advance.

###

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. southernenvironment.org

About Gasp
Gasp is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to reduce citizens’ exposure to air pollution, educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality, and encourage community leaders to serve as role model by advocating for clean air and clean energy. gaspgroup.org

Public Service Commission Approves Alabama Power’s $1+ Billion Gas Expansion

Public Service Commission Approves Alabama Power’s $1+ Billion Gas Expansion

Public Service Commission Approves Alabama Power’s $1+ Billion Gas Expansion

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Today the Alabama Public Service Commission voted to approve the single largest capacity increase ever proposed by Alabama Power. The Commission approved the projects, which will cost customers over $1.1 billion, despite significant flaws in the utility’s proposal.

Following the PSC staff’s recommendations filed last Friday to approve the majority of projects that Alabama Power is seeking to build, buy or contract, Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh and Commissioners Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker unanimously voted to adopt the staff recommendations in their entirety.

The only resource in the petition the Commission failed to approve is the proposal for solar plus battery storage—by far the most economic option 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.

“Unbelievably, the Public Service Commission did not approve the most cost-effective and most environmentally beneficial options proposed by Alabama Power,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama. “In spite of the fact that more and more of its customers and businesses are demanding renewable energy options, this is yet another example of the Commission holding Alabama back from a clean energy future and the jobs that go along with it.”

The Commission’s decision follows a significant decline in overall electricity demand due to the global pandemic and resulting economic recession.

“This is the wrong decision by the Commission, and it is the wrong time to approve this excessive and costly natural gas expansion,” said Michael Hansen, Executive Director of Gasp. “The Commission is giving the greenlight for Alabama Power and its shareholders to put the financial risks of this massive investment on customers, many of whom have lost employment as a result of the current public health and economic crisis. This approval will exacerbate those hardships for Alabamians in the form of higher bills for decades to come.”

“Alabama Power has substantially overstated its need for these gas plants given the glaring problems with its analysis—its projected need is even less reliable now due to the pandemic and its economic impacts,” said SELC staff attorney Christina Andreen Tidwell. “It’s disappointing that the Commission did not require updated information from Alabama Power in order to fully assess these impacts on the utility’s request.”

According to the Administrative Law Judge, the Commission is expected to issue a final order on the petition at an undetermined date.

Background:

In early March 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 previous assertions it wouldn’t need new 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 the extent there was 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 need. In written and oral testimony, the experts pointed to the utility’s long-standing efforts to build rate base and revenue requirements through excessive, unnecessary, and expensive new generation, all of which will increase costs for customers for decades.

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 shows that solar plus battery storage are the least cost resources in its proposal and provide more value to customers.

The Commission granted an extension for post-hearing briefs in the form of proposed orders to be filed on May 1. The proposed order filed on behalf of Energy Alabama and Gasp details their position based on the record developed during the hearing.

The groups, along with Sierra Club, 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 cross-examination of written testimony filed long before the pandemic took hold. Nevertheless, Alabama Power included discussion of Covid-19 in its proposed order, claiming that the pandemic does not affect its claimed capacity needs.

The Administrative Law Judge allowed limited supplemental briefing to be filed last Thursday. Energy Alabama and Gasp filed a 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.

###

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

Gasp, Environmental Defense Alliance Allege Alabama Officials Violated Open Records Act

Gasp, Environmental Defense Alliance Allege Alabama Officials Violated Open Records Act

Gasp, Environmental Defense Alliance Allege Alabama Officials Violated Open Records Act

Complaints stem from federal corruption case related to the North Birmingham Superfund Site

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Gasp and the Environmental Defense Alliance today filed joint complaints against Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) Director Lance LeFleur, Environmental Management Commissioner (EMC) Lanier Brown, and Attorney General (AG) Steve Marshall.

The complaints allege that LeFleur, Brown, and Marshall violated the Alabama Open Records Act by knowingly and without authority withholding public records lawfully requested by the organizations pertaining to the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in the North Birmingham community (35th Avenue Site).

The two organizations requested various records from LeFleur, Brown, and Marshall before, during, and after the 2018 federal trial of former Drummond Company executive David Roberson and former Balch & Bingham partner Joel Gilbert, both of whom were found guilty of multiple corruption charges.

In 2013, Drummond was identified as a “potentially responsible party” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for contamination in the 35th Avenue Site. In 2014, the EPA proposed adding the 35th Avenue Site to the National Priorities List and began investigating potential contamination in the Tarrant and Inglenook communities. Together with Balch & Bingham, Drummond sought to influence public officials — including LeFleur, Brown, and then-AG Luther Strange — to oppose the EPA’s cleanup activities.

“LeFleur, Brown, and Marshall declined to disclose many governmental records that EDA and Gasp believe should be made public,” said EDA attorney David Ludder.  “These records may reveal new evidence of collusion between State government officials and Drummond or its agents to protect Drummond’s wealth at the expense of the community’s health,” Ludder said.

“Gasp has for years been working to ensure that air pollution in the area is reduced and that any cleanup includes long-term remediation that benefits the residents of the impacted neighborhoods,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “To that end, we have tried to use every tool in the toolbelt, including the Open Records Act, to make sure residents get a fair shake. Alabamians deserve a government that works to protect them and not wealthy special interests.”

For more information, contact Michael Hansen, ([email protected]) or David Ludder ([email protected]).

###

Gasp’s mission is to advance healthy air and environmental justice in the Greater-Birmingham area through education, advocacy and collaboration. gaspgroup.org

The Environmental Defense Alliance strategically uses law and policy to protect human health and the environment. environmentaldefensealliance.org

Alabama PSC’s Unconstitutional Media Policy Must Be Changed

Alabama PSC’s Unconstitutional Media Policy Must Be Changed

Alabama PSC’s Unconstitutional Media Policy Must Be Changed

Alabamians have the right to know what is going on at their Public Service Commission

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — On Friday, May 15, a broad group of advocates filed joint comments challenging the legality — including the constitutionality — of the Alabama Public Service Commission’s proposed Media Coverage Plan, which would grant Alabama Power enormous power to control what the public knows about its operations in the state. The coalition, led by Gasp, Sierra Club, and Energy Alabama, was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, Alabama Arise, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and Faith in Action Alabama, among others.

The PSC’s media policy would create severe limitations for public access to hearings and other proceedings before the PSC. It requires five days’ prior consent for any recording of hearings, but also grants the PSC the power to rescind consent for recording at any time, and for any reason. Additionally, the policy mandates that the PSC revoke licenses provided to persons or media outlets upon the request of any party, attorney or witness, giving broad power to special interests. Such restrictions contravene the state’s Open Meetings Act and the U.S. Constitution’s protections for free speech, and are wildly out of step with neighboring states like Georgia and Mississippi, where similar proceedings are open to public recordings and live streamed.

Michael Hansen, executive Director of Gasp, issued the following statement:

“The Alabama Public Service Commission’s mission is right in the name: they serve the people of Alabama, not corporations. Open, transparent, and accessible government is not an option, but a requirement for the Commission to operate in the best interest of all Alabamians. Utility bills are a kitchen table issue, and Alabama’s families deserve to see how the decisions that impact them are made.”

Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer at Energy Alabama, issued the following statement:

“Sunshine is good, both for transparency and power production. Alabamians deserve to know how their utility bills will be affected by their elected officials. There’s simply no common sense reason to limit public access to decisions worth billions of dollars.”

Stephen Stetson, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, issued the following statement: 

“Everyone’s got utility bills and everyone should be able to easily observe PSC proceedings. It’s the public’s right to know what decisions are being made that will affect their lives. This policy erects a barrier to entry for information that should be freely available, and topples the scales in favor of powerful entities like Alabama Power at the expense of regular folks.”

For more information, contact Michael Hansen ([email protected]), Emily Bosch ([email protected]), or Daniel Tait ([email protected]).

###

Alabama Power, Alabama PSC Should Protect Consumers During COVID-19

Alabama Power, Alabama PSC Should Protect Consumers During COVID-19

Alabama Power, Alabama PSC Should Protect Consumers During COVID-19

Contact:
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, [email protected], 256-812-1431
Michael Hansen, Gasp, [email protected], 205-746-4666

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 15, 2020) — Gasp and Energy Alabama are calling on Alabama Power to immediately suspend shutoffs and late fees through at least May 1, 2020 for customers who find themselves unable to pay their electric bills during the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

Gasp and Energy Alabama believe that if Alabama Power will not act, the Alabama Public Service Commission has a duty to all Alabamians to act immediately. Further, the Alabama Public Service Commission should issue an order suspending shutoffs for all regulated electric, gas, and water utilities.

“Alabama is one of the poorest and least healthy states in the U.S., and Alabama Power customers pay some of the highest electricity bills in the nation,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp. “That’s a recipe for disaster. Those most at-risk will only be made more vulnerable if they lose electricity during this national crisis. Alabama Power has a moral responsibility to suspend cutoffs and late fees for all customers.”

Governor Kay Ivey declared a State of Emergency on Friday, March 13 after the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the State of Alabama.

Georgia Power, owned by the same parent company as Alabama Power, announced it would suspend residential shutoffs for thirty days, beginning on March 14. On March 15, the Mississippi Public Service Commission issued an emergency order on suspending all shutoffs for electric, gas, water, and sewer for sixty days.

“Alabama Power should have acted days ago to protect consumers, especially as its sister company Georgia Power has already acted,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama. “That advocacy organizations like Energy Alabama and Gasp have to force the company to do the right thing is a failure of leadership at the highest level.”

Utilities across the country are suspending shutoffs for late payment during the COVID-19, as reported by the Energy and Policy Institute.

###

About Energy Alabama
Energy Alabama is a nonprofit 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 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

Experts Expose Flaws in Alabama Power’s Billion Dollar Request

Experts Expose Flaws in Alabama Power’s Billion Dollar Request

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media 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

Experts Expose Glaring Flaws in Alabama Power’s Billion Dollar Request 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Hearings concluded late yesterday before the Alabama Public Service Commission concerning Alabama Power’s petition to add nearly 2.4 gigawatts of new capacity, a proposal that will cost customers at least $1.1 billion.

On behalf of Energy Alabama and Gasp, the Southern Environmental Law Center intervened in the docket to question Alabama Power’s lack of evidentiary support to build and buy such a significant amount of new gas resources.

Over the course of three days, 15 expert witnesses provided testimony and responded to questions under cross examination from Alabama Power, SELC and other intervenors concerning the utility’s request to increase its total power-producing capabilities by almost 20%. The utility previously asserted it wouldn’t need new generation sources until 2035.

Energy Alabama and Gasp’s experts exposed significant flaws in Alabama Power’s planning and justification processes. In written and oral testimony, the experts pointed to the utility’s long-standing efforts to build rate base and revenue requirements through excessive, unnecessary, and expensive new generation, all of which will increase costs for customers for decades.

“Alabama Power simply did not produce the evidence it needed to in order to justify such an unprecedented expense,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama.  “Alabama Power wants to write checks that benefit its shareholders, while the rest of us bear all the risks and financial burden even though our electric bills are already among the highest in the nation.”

“Alabama Power’s proposal is inconsistent with its own parent company’s low-to-no carbon pledge, and is the wrong path for Alabamians looking for lower electric bills and a more sustainable grid,” said Michael Hansen, Executive Director of Gasp. “Alabama Power claims it needs more than a billion dollars’ worth of new, mostly fossil fuel generation to address a supposed trend toward extreme cold—this proposal simply doesn’t reflect the world we’re living in and won’t get us to a lower carbon future we urgently need to reach.”

“Alabama Power’s own analysis shows that clean energy is the more affordable alternative, yet it is pushing for a massive amount of new, expensive capacity for which Alabamians will be on the hook for decades,” said SELC staff attorney Christina Andreen Tidwell. “As the utility itself has noted, businesses and customers are increasingly demanding renewable energy—it’s time to listen to Alabamians who want energy decisions that benefit us, not shareholders.”

###

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: 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: 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. SouthernEnvironment.org