Julie Ryan

Energy Alabama Recommendations for Huntsville Utilities Electric Fixed Fee Increase

The following recommendations regarding Huntsville Utilities proposed electric fixed fee increase were delivered to the Huntsville City Council in person.

On Sept. 17, 2018, we submitted an Open Records Request to Huntsville Utilities, to which they have failed to respond. On Sept 26, Huntsville Utilities representatives promised to have documents returned by end of day on Oct. 1. As of this letter on Oct. 4, Energy Alabama still has not received a response to the open letter request. Huntsville Utilities has only provided two additional charts from last week’s public meeting.

Energy Alabama opposes fixed fees because:

  • Fixed fees hurt low-income customers and apartment dwellers most
  • Fixed fees discourage energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • Fixed fees do not align the costs of the grid to who is causing the cost of the grid
  • Grid costs are primarily driven by peak demand such as hot summer days and cold winter mornings. Fixed fees encourage people to inadvertently make this problem worse.

In response, Energy Alabama makes the following recommendations:

  1. Increase public notice and participation.
    • HSV Utilities provided less than two weeks’ notice of the first public meeting, which was advertised poorly and, consequently, poorly attended.
  2. Delay the final City Council vote currently scheduled for Oct. 11, 2018.
    • HSV Utilities has requested less than one month between the first public notice and the proposed final vote by the City Council.
    • No vote should be taken until all requested documents have been released to the public and ample time has been given to study such material.
  3. Decline the increase to fixed fees for the reasons stated above.
  4. Retain the inclining block rate for residential customers.
    • Inclined block rates charge customers more money with increased usage. This encourages energy conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy use.
  5. Remove the declining block rate for small commercial customers.
    • Declining block rates charge customers less money as their usage increases. This discourages energy conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy.
  6. If additional revenue is still needed after the above recommendation have been met, Huntsville City Council should only approve an increase to the energy charge, not the fixed charge, and require HSV Utilities to pilot a “time of use” rate when smart meters are deployed in the Huntsville/Madison County area
    • Huntsville Utilities’ costs are in large part driven by consumption during times of congestion. If customers are allowed to choose rates that avoid consumption during these times, they save money and the whole system saves money.

 

Read the full letter: Energy Alabama Recommendations to Huntsville City Council

Energy Alabama Requests HSV Utilities Justify Rate Hike

Below is the Freedom of Information Act letter that Energy Alabama submitted to Huntsville Utilities requesting that they provide information that justifies their upcoming rate hike.

Information we have requested includes:

  1. Cost of service studies from fiscal year 2016 to present
  2. Any and all analysis and calculations to show the impact of the upcoming rate increase to each customer class
  3. Number of participants, by customer class, in each energy efficiency program offered by Huntsville Utilities or affiliates
  4. Actual weather adjusted energy savings and cost savings by all energy efficiency programs offered by Huntsville Utilities (or affiliates).

Read the full letter (submitted by email) below:

Mr. Joe Gehrdes
Director, Communication and Public Relations
Huntsville Utiltiies
PO Box 2048
Huntsville, Alabama 35804

Joe.gehrdes@hsvutil.org

RE: Open Records Request – September 2018

Dear Mr. Gehrdes,
Pursuant to the Alabama Open Records Act, we hereby request the following records:

1. Any and all cost of service studies on file with Huntsville Utilities from FY2016 to the date of this
filing;
2. Any and all analyses and calculations that show the impact of the upcoming rate increases to each
customer class;
3. Numbers of participants, by customer class to include residential, commercial and industrial, in
each energy efficiency program offered by Huntsville Utilities and/or its authorized affiliates;
4. Actual weather adjusted energy savings and cost savings by all energy efficiency programs offered by Huntsville Utilities and/or its authorized affiliates.

As used above, the term “records” includes, without limitation, all communications, correspondence, records of phone conversations, text messages, encrypted messages, transcripts of testimony, minutes or
notes of meetings, electronic mail, PowerPoint or other similar presentations, memoranda, reports, maps, photographs, drawings, data, tables, spreadsheets, formulas, notes, observations, impressions, contracts, and policies or directives, whether in an electronic or print medium, original or copy, or draft or final form.

The timeframe of this public records request is between January 1, 2016 and the date of this filing.

You may exclude news articles, press clippings, and duplicate emails.
The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes. Therefore, we are requesting a waiver of any fees.

We are, however, prepared to pay reasonable costs for these documents. In the event that there are fees, we would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. We
would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or USB drive if not. We are also available to obtain the documents via an on-site visit should that be most efficient for Huntsville
Utilities.

If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption that justifies the refusal to release the information and notify us of the appeal procedures available to us under the law.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely,

Daniel Tait
Technical Director
Energy Alabama

Letter to Huntsville Utilities

As of this writing, HSV Utilities has failed to respond to this letter. As such, we have provided these recommendations to the Huntsville City Council.

How does solar work?

How Does Solar Work?

Solar, Solar, Everywhere!

But, how the heck does it work?

I admit it, this is a question I’ve had since long before I began working with Energy Alabama. I know that somehow the panels trap the energy from the sun then there’s some wires and stuff that convert that energy to something that is usable, but how?

So, I decided to do a little research and see what I could find out…. then I thought I’d share it with you, because while I’m sure some of you could explain it better than I ever will, others are probably going to appreciate my 5-year old level of comprehension on the subject.

Each solar panel is made up of many smaller units called photo-voltaic cells (because they make energy from the sun), usually made of silicon.

But how?  Says the 5-year old in me.

Ok, so let’s back up and start from the top.

First, we have the sun, which makes an unlimited supply of energy (until the sun eventually blows up but that’s a different story). That energy lands on the ground and buildings and just dissipates, often being wasted. Well, not really wasted, I mean that energy did just warm us up and keep us from staring at a dark and gloomy day. But, when sunlight hits a solar panel, the PV cells inside the solar panel break the sun’s energy up.

Light from the sun hits the solar panel, knocking the electron off the atom, and this somehow creates a flow of electricity. But how? (I really do sound like a 5-year old).

Each cell has a positive layer (made by adding phosphorous) and negative layer (made by adding boron) creating an electric field in the middle. As photons are absorbed in the cell, electrons are released and pushed through that electric field. The electrons then move to the bottom of the cell and exit through connected wires, creating direct current electricity. The solar system inverter then converts that electricity to the same electricity that you would get from the power company.

Most systems are set up to feed the electricity from solar back into the main power grid system. In many cases the owner of the solar sells back the electricity they are making to the power company, purchasing only what they need, in many cases making a profit to help pay for their solar installation.

I hope you have a better understanding of how solar panels work, I know I do!

Want more? Check out this TedEd video

solar isn't the answer to energy efficiency

Solar Isn’t the Answer to Energy Efficiency

We talk a lot about solar here at Energy Alabama and I think sometimes that confuses people and makes them think that that’s what we are all about, but it’s not true. Solar is great, solar is awesome, but solar isn’t the total answer to energy efficiency.

First off, there are many areas where solar just isn’t even a possibility. I live in the woods so installing solar on my house would just be silly because of all the tree coverage. However, there are many things I can do to improve energy efficiency and we’ve been working on that quite a bit lately.

In January we had Southern Valley Services come out to our house and provide an energy audit. We live in a home that was built in the mid-1960’s, and while it was well-built for the time, it has some issues and we knew it. It was pretty interesting to watch Tommy Marr go through our house with an infra-red camera and point out spots where the cold was getting in. He then provided a very thorough list of ways that we could improve our home’s energy efficiency. His list included things that would benefit older homes including a heat barrier in the attic area above our garage, proper insulation in a variety of areas (sometimes I wonder if the insulated this place at all), sealing of duct work, finding and sealing air leaks in our sunroom windows, and encapsulation of our crawl space.

None of these were huge things as far as price goes, but the all work together to cause major energy inefficiency. We’ve not done everything on the list yet but just the few things we chose to do first have made a big difference in our home’s comfort level.

You may recall our interview with Rick & Pat Trescott; their home is about the same age as mine. They’ve spent years improving their home’s energy efficiency before they finally reached a point where they were ready to install solar panels. They live in an area where they have the right solar access so solar made sense after they had completed all the other improvements. They knew that if they’d put solar on first it would have been a huge waste of money, because they would simply be grabbing energy from the sun only to have it escaping due to improper insulation, unsealed ductwork, poorly sealed windows and poorly selected blinds. The list of small things you can and should do to improve energy efficiency is endless. Solar is just the icing on the cake.

Here are just a few things you can and should do to your home to improve energy efficiency before you consider solar:

  • Seal all ductwork (including the spots where ducts enters the house)
  • Make sure that all walls and attic areas are properly insulated
  • Encapsulate your crawl space
  • Update your water heater and/or heat pump to ENERGY STAR rated versions
  • Update all light fixtures to LEDs
  • Replace all appliances with ENERGY STAR rated appliances
  • Replace windows with ENERGY STAR rated windows

So, the next time you start getting a little anxious that you don’t have solar yet, calm down. You might not be ready for solar yet. In due time. Look for the small things that you can do now to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Solar will just keep getting cheaper and it’ll still be there when you are ready.

Alabama’s energy future in focus at Power-Up forum

Energy Alabama is proud to have been part of this great event. Our CEO, Daniel Tait, was one of the speakers at The Power-Up Forum.

Executives from utilities and solar energy companies, efficiency experts and homeowners will gather at Birmingham-Southern College Tuesday for the Power-Up Energy Forum to discuss the future of renewable energy, sustainability efforts and energy efficiency in Alabama.

The event, which is organized by the Alabama Environmental Council, will begin at 9 a.m. in the Great Hall at Birmingham-Southern’s Norton Campus Center.

The forum features moderated panel discussions on solar power and energy efficiency, one from a customer standpoint and one from a business standpoint, featuring solar customers, installers and energy efficiency experts.

Read the full article at AL.com