On Wednesday, July 17, hundreds of interested parties crowded into the Alabama Public Service Commission’s meeting room, lobby, and overflow room to hear presentations and witnesses from Alabama Power (and their allies) as well as from organizations like GASP who believe that Alabama Power’s return on equity (ROE) is too high and that the PSC process should be more transparent and friendly to the public. The meeting lasted nearly 12 hours, going past 8 p.m. Members of the public were allowed to speak and below are remarks made by Outreach Director Kirsten Bryant.
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Video of Kirsten’s expanded statement is below, starting at 5:17.
Whether it is volunteering at your child’s school, attending a charity fundraiser, or participating in public proceedings – we think highly of these activities, because we value civic engagement.
When decisions are made that affect our lives and pocketbooks, active civic engagement is important to ensure appropriate checks and balances are in place.
The big decision made 30 years ago established the RSE – how Alabama Power, our only source of electricity, charges us for the power they generate..
Obviously, we all depend upon electricity, so how we are charged for it has a huge effect on our lives. Was the big decision to establish RSE made prudently in good faith, by the will of the people? I don’t know, I was in elementary school when that decision was made. Let’s leave that analysis for the historians, and look ahead.
Determining how much we pay for electricity is complicated, with multiple factors to consider: where it comes from, how its produced, the health impacts, cost recovery and utility profit margins..
Due to the complexities involved and the obvious impact electricity has on our lives and pocketbooks, the decision of what to charge consumers is a decision that warrants a completely open, transparent process. A process that encourages meaningful, civic engagement by those of who pay: voters, taxpayers and Alabama Power customers.
Unfortunately, that is not our reality. Alabama stands alone in the way utility rate decisions are handled.
- The Wall Street Journal reported in March of this year – “households getting electricity from Alabama Power Co are using 6% less than five years ago. But their monthly power bills still have increased by an average of 8%, partly because of a lucrative rate agreement that the utility brokered with state regulators 30 years ago.”
- Alabama Power residential customers pay the 2nd highest bills in the nation
- Alabama Power commercial customers pay the highest rates in the Southeast
- Alabama spends the most in the nation on retail electricity as a portion of GDP.
These facts present strong reasoning why this complex decision of RSE – how to charge consumers for electricity, warrants a process that allows for meaningful, civic engagement.
It is concerning that this process of hosting informal public meetings in lieu of evidentiary hearings, has not warranted prudent checks and balances. This process has not provided meaningful opportunity for public participation. For example:
- Notices, announcements and calls for public involvement were not made to customers who buy Alabama Power’s electricity. If the media and various organizations didn’t cover this, no one would know these meetings were taking place.
- For those of us who were informed, and who are here, it’s not easy to participate. I have two young kids and have not been able to tell my babysitter what time I would be home today or from any of these meetings.
- There is not a way for people to submit written comments to the PSC for consideration. Very few people can afford to spend all day and into the evening away from their jobs and families. Do they not have an opportunity to provide input at these public meetings?
- A well-informed public and the exchange of information is essential to healthy regulatory oversight. This process seemed to develop ad-hoc, with little certainty, and the public had little access to information that was exchanged.
The lack of transparency around information sharing may be one of the most disappointing outcomes of these proceedings. Especially considering our neighbors in GA have a more robust process where the regulatory agencies, GA Power and the public all have opportunities to give and receive information.
What I most want to convey to you, or what I’ll leave you with, commissioners, is this: Complex decisions that affect our lives and pocketbooks should be made with a transparent process that’s understandable and encourages public participation.
GASP is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to reduce air pollution, to educate the public on the health risks associated with dirty air, and to encourage community leaders to serve as role models for clean air and clean energy production.