Daniel Tait

RELEASE: Lawsuit Filed Over TVA’s Millions in Payments to Dirty Energy Lobbyists

For Immediate Release, September 9, 2021

Contact: Howard Crystal, (202) 809-6926, hcrystal@biologicaldiversity.org

 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— The Center for Biological Diversity and allies sued the Tennessee Valley Authority today over millions of dollars in ratepayer money the public utility diverts to anti-environmental advocacy groups like the Edison Electric Institute and the Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition. The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee, seeks an order compelling the utility to address a 2020 petition and supporting evidence seeking to regulate this kind of spending.

The petition detailed how these and other trade associations litigate and lobby to delay the critical transition to clean energy, hamper efforts to combat the climate emergency, and deny protections to imperiled wildlife. For example, TVA paid approximately $200,000 to the Utility Water Act Group, which opposes Clean Water Act protections, in 2018 alone; it pays dues of around $500,000 each year to be a member of the Edison Electric Institute, which similarly advocates against decarbonization. TVA, the petition asserted, is violating its customers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to fund these groups.

So far the utility has refused to address the issue.

“Our communities already shoulder among the highest energy burdens in the country,” said Marquita Bradshaw, executive director of Sowing Justice. “It adds insult to injury for TVA to be sending ratepayer funds to groups that are directly undermining the urgent transition away from the fossil fuel plants disparately impacting frontline communities.”

“As the nation’s largest public power provider and a federal agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority needs to demonstrate leadership by halting the financing of groups propping up the fossil fuel economy,” said Howard Crystal, legal director at the Center’s Energy Justice program. “Instead it funds these groups to do its dirty work while it moves forward with building new fossil gas plants. TVA can and must do better.”

“TVA has forced its customers to make political speech by taking money from their utility bills and using it for anti-clean energy advocacy,” said Daniel Tait, chief operating officer of Energy Alabama. “We have repeatedly called on the TVA inspector general to investigate this misuse of customer funds but after hearing and seeing nothing, we felt compelled to act.”

“TVA ratepayers want energy freedom,” said Glen Brand, director of policy and advocacy for Solar United Neighbors. “TVA shouldn’t be using their money to take that freedom away. It should use that money to help them save money and take control of where their electricity comes from with rooftop solar energy. It shouldn’t be shoveling it to monopoly utility front groups like the Edison Electric Institute.”

“TVA is unique in the power industry in that environmental stewardship and economic development are codified in the agency’s founding mission,” said Maggie Shober, director of utility reform at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It is imperative that the largest public power utility operate with accountability and transparency, stop funding anti-environment and anti-green jobs work, and invest in clean energy that will support the health of the Valley and the people who depend on it.”

Today’s suit follows a separate petition the Center filed earlier this year before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concerning private utility funding of these same groups. That petition, which is pending, would amend FERC’s Uniform System of Accounts to make these payments presumptively non-recoverable from ratepayers, which would force utilities to either demonstrate how funding these groups is in the public interest or provide this funding from shareholders rather than ratepayers.

These initiatives are part of a growing movement against the longstanding practice of allowing utilities to charge ratepayers for advocacy that serves the utility’s own interests rather than ratepayers. This includes a recent decision from Kentucky utility regulators denying ratepayer recovery for EEI dues, and a new New York law that precludes utilities from recovering for payments to trade groups engaged in lobbying.

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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.

RELEASE: Scorecard Shows Lack of Transparency, Poor Access to Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy at Alabama’s Electric Cooperatives

Contact:
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, (256) 812-1431, dtait@alcse.org
Kyle CriderAlabama Interfaith Power & Light, (2053065811, kyle@thepeoplesjusticecouncil.org

Fewer than half of Alabama’s electric cooperatives allow their member-owners to attend board meetings, half do not make their governing documents available online, and none offer community solar programs, according to a new report released today by Energy Alabama and Alabama Interfaith Power & Light. The report evaluated the performance of Alabama’s electric co-ops on a number of issues, from governance and finances to the programs they make available to their members.

The groups examined Alabama’s 22 electric co-ops and ranked them on best practices determined by advocacy groups and member-owners. Of a total of 120 points, no co-op scored higher than 59. >>See the online scorecard here.

“Electric cooperatives are supposed to be based on the involvement and authority of its member-owners,” said Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama’s Chief Operating Officer. “But this scorecard shows that most electric cooperatives in the state are failing to live up to their principles.”

“By practice and by law, co-ops are supposed to operate by the principles of democracy. It’s shocking that any of these electric co-ops would attempt to keep their member-owners from attending a board meeting. Electric cooperatives are largely exempt from state oversight and it has real world consequences,” said Kyle Crider, Alabama Interfaith Power & Light’s Program and Policy Director.

The scorecard found that all of Alabama’s co-ops have a monthly fixed charge of more than $15, significantly higher than recommended fixed charges determined by utility ratemaking experts like the Regulatory Assistance Project. High fixed fees present a particularly steep financial challenge for lower-income members, especially those currently struggling during the COVID-economic crisis, and for those pursuing energy efficiency and renewable energy options.

“Community solar and on-bill energy efficiency financing programs can lower members’ electricity bills while promoting local economic development and reducing fossil fuel emissions. Alabama co-ops are neglecting opportunities to promote cleaner, healthier communities,” said Ruby Krasnow, researcher with Energy Alabama and the author of the report.

“Alabama’s electric cooperatives were created decades ago to provide electricity and opportunity to Alabamians who were largely ignored by the investor-owned utility companies of the time,” said Tait. “Rural America needs cooperatives to deliver again, not shirk their responsibilities. Broadband, clean energy, bill savings, rural investment. All are possible with proactive cooperatives.”

The groups acknowledged that more than half of the cooperatives scored are developing or partnering with local companies to bring broadband to their communities, but noted that the co-ops could be doing more to improve quality of life for their member-owners through energy efficiency programs, community solar and by lowering the fixed charges on monthly electric bills.

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About Alabama Interfaith Power & Light
The mission of Alabama Interfaith Power & Light (ALIPL) is to be faithful stewards of Creation by responding to climate change through the promotion of environmental justice, energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy from a faith perspective. ALIPL is a program of The People’s Justice Council and sponsors such campaigns as the Interfaith Statement on Energy & Equity and Weatherizing Every Residence in the South East (WERiSE).

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. Learn more at energyalabama.org

RELEASE: Clean Energy Advocates Call On TVA to Halt Its Plans for New Gas, Align with Federal Goals

March 16, 2021
Contact:
Maggie Shober, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, maggie@cleanenergy.org865-235-1448
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, dtait@alcse.org256-812-1431
Jonathan Levenshus, Sierra Club, jonathan.levenshus@sierraclub.org202-590-0893

Knoxville, Tenn. — Clean energy groups, in public comments submitted on March 13, are calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to halt its plans for a massive build-out of gas-fired power plants that are inconsistent with President Biden’s call for net zero emissions in the power sector by 2035. The Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Energy Alabama argue that new gas is costly, adds significant risk to customers and that TVA failed to analyze any alternatives such as energy efficiency or renewable energy should it need new capacity.

In February, TVA released an Environmental Assessment containing plans to build 1.5 gigawatts of new peaking gas-fired power plants, three new combustion turbines in Alabama totaling 750 megawatts, and three in Kentucky totaling 750 megawatts. President Biden signed a series of executive orders in late January, days before TVA announced its gas additions, to help achieve a “carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035” and the President called on the federal government to leverage its footprint and buying power to “lead by example.”

“The environmental, public health and economic impacts of gas aren’t going away, and there’s little chance of our nation affordably meeting President Biden’s achievable carbon reduction goals if we increase our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Jonathan Levenshus from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “TVA should be winding down its use of gas to power our homes and businesses, not ramping it up.”

“The decision by TVA to replace one fossil fuel with another locks the utility into gas for decades,” said Keith Johnston, Director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Birmingham office. “TVA did not properly consider other energy resources, such as energy efficiency, renewables and demand response programs, that could alleviate this need for more fossil fuels.”

TVA’s high wholesale power cost, driven largely by expensive coal plants, debt, and historic underinvestment in energy efficiency, has some local utilities considering a departure from TVA and potentially procuring power elsewhere. TVA’s lack of energy efficiency drives bills up for all customers.

“The TVA territory is home to some of the highest energy burdens – measured by the proportion of income spent on energy – in the country,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama. “TVA’s failure to even consider energy efficiency, renewable resources, or demand response will exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.”

“At a time when TVA’s future customer base and business model are in question, we cannot afford to increase the risk for even more stranded assets,” said Maggie Shober, Director of Utility Reform for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “TVA must get serious about modernizing its infrastructure rather than doubling down on the infrastructure of the last century.”

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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 Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.8 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.

About Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes equitable and responsible energy choices to ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.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 more than 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. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

Electric lines in the ice and snow

Alabama’s Lessons From Texas

This article by our Chief Operating Officer, Daniel Tait, was originally published in Business Alabama.

What happened in Texas in February was a tragedy, with millions left without power amid freezing temperatures for days.  A recent opinion piece by Mr. George Clark of Manufacture Alabama discussed what a similar situation could mean for Alabama. While it’s true that better energy planning is needed, Mr. Clark missed the mark on the right solution for Alabama and left out key tools (cleaner and cheaper tools) to address Alabama’s energy needs.

As Mr. Clark noted, almost all energy sources had troubles in Texas, although not all suffered equally. Some government officials and other vested interests (mainly fossil fuel advocates) immediately jumped to conclusions, blaming the power outages on renewable energy sources, namely frozen wind turbines. It has since come to light that the main cause was actually frozen gas pipelines and instruments.  Gas and other fossil fuels like coal were especially hit hard with supply issues. Upwards of 40% of the Texas’s gas, coal, and nuclear fleet went offline at times. At its peak, about 30 gigawatts of mostly gas generation in Texas failed because of the cold temperatures. Wind power also had some outages, but not nearly on the same scale. In fact, ERCOT, Texas’ grid operator, reported that wind power was “the least significant factor” in the blackout. Furthermore, wind turbines can and do operate reliably in sub-zero temperatures if they are properly winterized, and wind turbines operate fine in much colder places, such as the northern Plains.

Texas relies heavily on gas for its energy supply, just like Alabama. Unfortunately, the recent disaster highlights the inherent risks associated with gas plants, gas supply, and an overreliance on gas. Many of the gas plants that went offline in Texas could not receive the gas they were promised, even if they had firm delivery gas contracts. And, as this goes to press, Alabama Power is currently proposing a massive expansion of their electric generation capacity with mostly gas. But gas, as we are seeing in Texas, is not the panacea many utilities claim it to be.

So, what can Alabama do to help protect us from a similar catastrophe? While we won’t know the full story until Texas authorities investigate further, Alabama can and should take immediate steps to prepare. While electricity outages are always a possibility, we can reduce the likelihood of occurrences and impacts by investing in more energy efficiency, having more robust demand response programs and reducing barriers to renewable energy in our state.  Alabama is woefully behind in deploying these lower cost resources that do not require the massive expenditures (and accompanying rate hikes) that a new gas plant requires.

As the least cost energy resource for customers, ramping up energy efficiency would lower bills for customers across the board. Energy efficiency is especially important to reduce peak stress on the grid in Southern states where much of our home heating comes from electricity–more efficient homes and businesses hold on to heating and cooling for longer periods and save energy and money year-round. But energy efficiency is also a public safety issue. If power goes out for a prolonged amount of time as it did in Texas, Alabama needs buildings that can keep people warm and safe. Unfortunately, Alabama Power ranks last in the nation in energy efficiency offerings among utilities. Utilities often oppose stringent energy efficiency standards and building codes in an attempt to sell more electricity and build more centralized power plants. While that may be good for utility profits, it’s not good for Alabamians or our businesses.

Furthermore, stronger and more robust demand response programs – which reduce or shift your energy usage – can help utilities manage load to keep the grid running when power plants go down and demand for electricity is still rising. Demand response programs can compensate residents for things like dialing back the temperature on their thermostat or shutting down a water heater during an emergency.

Finally, Alabama utilities and regulators have gone out of their way to block renewable energy sources in this state.  Look no further than the Alabama PSC’s recent decision, and Alabama Power’s increase in a “standby charge”, to keep taxing the sun for small scale solar producers in the state. Or the Alabama PSC’s recent decision to not allow 400 MW of solar plus battery storage. Smaller scale solar and energy storage projects can help us mitigate energy usage in record-breaking storms. These local sources of reliable and cost-effective energy are almost nowhere to be found in Alabama, even when compared to our Southeastern neighbors, and it’s critical to bring these sources online and scale them as quickly as possible. Neighboring states like Georgia are doing it, and they are creating jobs and stimulating the economy in the meantime. Utilities often oppose renewable energy resources, despite the myriad benefits for customers, because of the threat to their business model.

Preventing a disaster like Texas from happening in Alabama will require better planning and investing in lower cost resources such as energy efficiency, demand response, and renewable energy resources. Alabama should take heed of the tough lessons Texas learned: more gas plants are not a failsafe solution and banking on last century’s technology for a historic weather event can result in unprecedented failure.

Alabama PSC Should Release Analysis on Alabama Power’s Excessive Profit Formula

Today, Energy Alabama sent a letter to the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) asking it to commit fully to transparency and fairness by allowing regular Alabamians to review and submit questions about an overdue report examining Alabama Power’s Rate Stabilization and Equalization (RSE), a key factor in how the utility’s excessive profits are determined.

Read the letter here

Alabama Power’s RSE utilizes a formula that over-rewards the company at the expense of its customers. Hard-working Alabama Power customers deserve to know why they pay some of the highest electric bills in the country. The Alabama PSC owes an explanation to the people of Alabama and should find a way to virtually open this meeting to the general public.

There are major questions about the workings and results of the RSE formula which should be answered by a report required by a 2013 PSC order authorizing the rate. Publicly available data shows that Alabama customers are overburdened by the PSC’s formula, which hides the usual measure of return on equity (ROE) used by other utility regulators.

However, the “hidden” ROE can still be calculated from other sources. Such a comparison from 2014 through 2018 shows that Alabama Power customers paid more than $1 billion in excess profits than they would have if the PSC had instead awarded Alabama Power the national average ROE.

COVID-19, and the economic hardships it created, have further exacerbated the excess profit Alabama Power has pocketed. Instead, the PSC continues to over-reward Alabama Power at the expense of its customers.

Allowing a monopoly utility to retain profits that are far above those necessary to provide mandated services is not equitable nor economical for customers. The long overdue RSE report should provide the important information necessary for all stakeholders to discuss the unique formula and the profits it supports­­.

“If this Commission cares about creating jobs, it should put Alabama Power’s excessive profits back into the hands of regular folks and small businesses,” said Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama’s Chief Operating Officer. “The time for monopoly handouts is over.”

By any objective standard, the case is clear. The Alabama PSC must support transparency and #ReleaseTheRSE.