Michael Cummings

Energy Alabama Signs On To Public Comments About TVA 2019 Draft IRP

Energy Alabama has signed on to public comments on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) draft 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (draft IRP) and accompanying draft Environmental Impact Statement. The comments were developed in conjunction with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) Tennessee Environmental Council, Gasp, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Harpeth Conservancy, Alabama Rivers Alliance, and Protect Our Aquifer (collectively referred to below as “Conservation Groups”).

The way TVA provides electricity has far-reaching effects on the Tennessee Valley, the Southeast region, and beyond. The results presented in the draft IRP highlight that—no matter what the future holds—a strategy that promotes and leverages distributed energy resources (DER), including energy efficiency, demand-response, distributed solar, and storage will best achieve TVA’s statutory mandate to provide electricity at the lowest system cost, as well as its mission to improve the quality of life in the Valley through the integrated management of the region’s resources.

Although the study confirms that DER is competitive with, and preferable to, a traditional supply-side approach, we Conservation Groups believe that, as presented, the draft IRP underestimates the potential for DER to contribute to the future of the Valley’s grid.

To read the Conservation Groups’ full public comments, click here.

Additionally, Energy Alabama has submitted independent comments regarding non-technical and process concerns. The full comments are available here, and can be summarized at a high level with the following bullet points:

  1. Non-disclosure agreements for IRPWG members stifle discussion and are unnecessary
  2. The IRPWG needs actual power to influence the IRP
  3. TVA should refrain from changing programs during an IRP
  4. TVA should have explicitly shown the IRPGW material changes between the 2015 IRP and the 2019 draft IRP
  5. TVA should pursue a distributed IRP with all possible speed

To read Energy Alabama’s complete independent comments, click here.

Energy Alabama Submits Comments on Volkswagen Beneficiary Mitigation Plan

Energy Alabama, in conjunction with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Gasp, Inc., has submitted public comments on the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) draft Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust, Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. The draft plan was posted on ADECA’s website on December 27, 2018, and discussed at a public hearing on January 15, 2019.

Our comments can be viewed in full here.

The mitigation trust offers a great opportunity for Alabama to make meaningful advances toward the electrification of its transportation system. As outlined in our comments, we commend ADECA for proposing to spend the maximum allowable percentage of its mitigation trust fund allotment on electric vehicle charging stations, and we recommend that Alabama spend the remainder of its funding on electric transit and school buses, as well as electric airport ground support equipment.

In addition, we recommend that Alabama prioritize funding for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by air pollution. Finally, we recommend that ADECA provide 100 percent funding for government-owned projects, maximize DERA funding, clarify how projects will be selected, and require emissions reduction information to be made publicly available.

To read the full comments, click here.

APSC

What Does a Public Service Commission Do, Anyway?

Lately, the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) has received a ton of attention around these parts. So you might be wondering, what does a public service commission do, anyway?

If you only read this blog, you might think the Alabama PSC was our nemesis or something – a regulatory Joker to our energy-industry-disrupting Batman. (No? Well, just humor us for a moment, k?) First, we told you about some comments we made for the PSC’s recent proceeding about EV charging stations. Then we told you about how we’re joining forces with some other advocates in calling for a public PSC hearing over some big Alabama Power tax savings. And most recently, we shared how some others have filed a complaint over a PSC-related solar tax. Whew.

The reality is that the PSC isn’t our nemesis at all. We just happen to disagree with a few policy positions they’ve taken. Honest! Our hope is that, through our advocacy for renewable energy, the PSC will adopt more progressive policies in regards to energy. That’s all.

But here’s the thing. Since we’ve been talking about the PSC so much lately, we’ve heard one question more than any other. What, exactly, is the purpose of a public service commission?

 

‘To Ensure Regulatory Balance’

Here’s the elevator pitch, straight from the Alabama the Alabama PSC website: “To ensure a regulatory balance between regulated companies and consumers in order to provide consumers with safe, adequate and reliable services at rates that are equitable and economical.”

What does that mean? It means the PSC is supposed to regulate monopolies like electric utilities (read: companies like Alabama Power). The idea is that it’s fine for a utility to operate without competition – you know, as a monopoly – because of the huge amount of infrastructure needed to deliver electricity or water. Think about how enormous the power grid is. It wouldn’t make sense to have multiple power grids in one town, would it? Many public service commissions regulate other monopolies like telecoms and natural gas companies.

But while it makes sense for utilities to function as government-backed monopolies, oversight is still needed. After all, they are still monopolies. And unchecked monopolies do not have a great reputation for doing the public good. (Think airlines, cable companies, Microsoft in the 1990s, your brother when he owns Park Place and Boardwalk, etc.)

 

Serving YOU

That’s where the PSC comes in. In theory, the PSC ensures that consumers enjoy reliable service while paying a fair rate for it. There’s more to it than that, but you get the idea. In Alabama, the PSC has three members: Two Associate Commissioners and one President. All three won their seats in statewide elections, and two of them are up for re-election in 2018. That means they serve YOU.

So it only makes sense (it does to us at least) to call out the Alabama PSC and Alabama Power for something like that solar tax mentioned above. And it makes complete sense to call for complete transparency in PSC decision-making, like the Alabama Power tax savings. After all, the PSC exists to serve consumers, not just utilities. We elected them. Now we should put them to work.

What do you think? What would you like to see the Alabama PSC – or any PSC – accomplish the next time it meets? You should tell them. 

Contact the Commission President Today!

Energy Alabama Provides Comments for Public Service Commission on EV Charging Stations

Energy Alabama, along with the Southern Environmental Law Center and Gasp, provided comments to the Alabama Public Service Commission regarding its Proceeding to Determine the Commission’s Jurisdiction Over Electric Vehicle Charging Stations.

Our comments included two important points for the Commission to consider:

  1. An entity owning and/or operating an Electric vehicle charging station (EVCS) should not be subject to Title 37. In other words, these entities should not be under the jurisdiction of state utility regulators. This position represents the consensus among all commenting parties in the proceeding.
  2. Investments by Alabama Power in EVCS should maximize public benefits.

Concerning Alabama Power’s investments in the electric vehicle charging space, we included two further points:

  1. The Commission should require that utility investments in EV infrastructure provide net benefits to customers and promote EV adoption while still allowing a competitive market to develop. Ideally, the Commission should give utilities clear guideposts for these investments.
  2. We recommend that the Commission propose a technical conference or other forum where rate design questions can be explored further with respect to EV charging stations.

Our full comments can be found here: https://alcse.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/2018-01-26-SELC-Reply-Commments-Re-EVCS.pdf

Why Your Utility Bill Is So High (And What to Do About It)

It’s wintertime, and let’s face it: Your utility bill is going to be high this time of year. Even so, you might still be frustrated with your utility company when you get a bill that’s three or four times higher than normal. But before you call up your provider and give them a piece of your mind, see if this scenario sounds familiar.

OK, so you just checked the thermostat. It’s 12 degrees outside. Twelve! Meanwhile, you’re freezing inside your house because you’ve lowered your thermostat all the way to 66. You’re covered with blankets. You’re doing your best to save energy and… your bill is still crazy high.

Right, we get it. Us too. First things first: No, your utility company hasn’t raised their rates very suddenly. But yes, you should still call them and raise some hell.

We’ll get to why later. In the meantime, let’s go over a few of the many reasons your bill is so insane right now.

Related: How to Read Your Utility Bill.

 

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Duh. It’s cold. Very cold, even here in Alabama. But what does that mean for you?

All houses have leakage points. Some houses are worse than others. Some, especially older homes, leak LOTS of that precious warm air during the wintertime. That’s a bad thing.

If possible, try to add some insulation to your house. Here’s a handy guide from Energy.gov. While you’re at it, seal off any leaky ductwork. (Yeah, that will involve venturing into the crawl space. Yeah, it’s a bit creepy down there. The good news is, you can hire someone to do it!)

Anywhere you’re losing heated air to the outside, it’s costing you a lot of money. And the colder it is outside, the problem gets exponentially worse. So get it fixed. Fortunately, these are pretty cheap and easy jobs. You’ll make your money back quickly. (When we say quickly, we mean within 2 years.)

 

Auxiliary Heat Mode and Your Utility Bill

Pop quiz time. Do you know how your heating system works? Do you know what a heat pump is? Is it running on auxiliary mode?

If you said ‘no’ to any of those questions, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that you don’t have to know exactly how your system works. If you’re curious, there are loads of YouTube videos that can give you a crash course. The bad news is that, if your heat pump is running on auxiliary mode (or aux heat), that’s gonna cost you some serious dough.

When the temperature outside reaches a certain point (around the freezing point), your thermostat will automatically turn on auxiliary mode. This turns on electric heat strips for additional heat. It’s kinda like blasting your oven on high. All through your house.

That’s understandable when it’s really, really cold outside. You gotta stay warm. Just make sure the auxiliary heat (or emergency heat) setting isn’t always on. You also want your heat pump to keep working even while the auxiliary heat is on. To do this, have a professional come out twice a year to check that your HVAC is in working order.

If you’re not having regular maintenance completed by a certified technician, chances are your equipment may not be working as designed. And here’s the problem: You may not even know! Just because it’s warm inside your house doesn’t mean the system is really working the right way. Remember that high bill?

Unfortunately, this might be a somewhat pricey fix if something is wrong. But in the long run, fixing the problem is better than overpaying every single month.

So Can I Still Give Someone a Piece of My Mind?

Yes! It’s true that your utility company didn’t suddenly change your rates. However, their rate structure is set up in a way that penalizes you when things get rough.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your utility company offered a slightly lower rate at times when it’s especially hot or cold outside? That would obviously help lots of customers who feel the pinch this time of year. Then, when the temperature is milder, they could charge a higher rate to make up for it. We think everybody would benefit in this scenario. Your utility MAY offer budget billing and if so, you should check out that option.

Another option would be for utility companies to invest in energy efficiency programs that help real people. Wouldn’t it be nice if your provider offered a program to make your home more energy efficient so you could fix all the problems we listed above? We think so, too. Then you wouldn’t need special rates and billing processes.

They know these problems are out there. But these types of programs are few and far between in Alabama. So call your utility company, city council, the board of directors, and/or the Alabama Public Service Commission. Let them know how you feel. You might just make a difference for yourself and your community. 

So Who Exactly Do I Call?

That depends on where you live in Alabama.

North Alabama (serviced by TVA)

  • Call your local utility, who buys from TVA. This is usually a municipal utility, like Huntsville Utilities, or an electric cooperative, like Joe Wheeler EMC
  • If you have a municipal utility, call your city council and mayor. They ultimately control the utility.
  • If you have an electric cooperative, call your board of directors. This information can be found on their website.

Central Alabama (serviced by Alabama Power)

  • Call Alabama Power
    • 1-800-245-2244
  • Call the Alabama Public Service Commission
    • 1-800-392-8050

South Alabama (serviced by PowerSouth)

  • Call PowerSouth
    • 334-427-3000
  • If you have a municipal utility, call your city council and mayor. They ultimately control the utility.
  • If you have an electric cooperative, call your board of directors. This information can be found on their website.