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.

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.

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!

Formal Complaint Over AL Power Solar Tax Filed by GASP, Southern Environmental Law Center

Below is a reproduction of an email we sent out in support of GASP and SELC’s challenge to Alabama Power’s unjust solar tax.

 

Friends and members,

It’s just not right.

Regular, hardworking Alabamians who generate their own solar electricity are being singled out by Alabama Power and the Alabama Public Service Commission. That’s why like-minded people from across the state are joining forces and fighting back.

OK, so if you haven’t heard the news, you might be a bit confused right about now. Here’s the skinny.

Back in 2012, the Alabama Public Service Commission (APSC) approved a fixed fee for Alabama Power customers who generate their own electricity. That fee, or really tax, went into effect the following year. Basically, any residential customers who generate solar power have to pay Alabama Power $5 per kilowatt PER MONTH just for the privilege.

Like we said, it’s not right. But it is unreasonable, unjust, discriminatory, and contrary to the public interest.

If those words have a nice ring to them, that’s great! On Thursday, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and GASP filed a formal complaint with the APSC over that ridiculously unfair fee. Some of those words we just used to describe the fee are in there. Pretty cool, right?

(If you missed it, AL.com’s Dennis Pillion has the story right here.)

Now that you know, we’re asking everyone to please take a look today. Brush up on the policy. Be prepared to talk about this with your friends and family. Spread the word! And while you’re at it, visit the APSC website and contact your commissioners (or even the Commission’s President).

Don’t know who to contact? Start here!

We all know that solar power is great. It’s clean. It’s renewable. And, hey, it’ll even save you money on your utility bill.

Well, that’s all true unless you’re an Alabama Power customer. So now it’s time we changed that.

Shine on,
-Daniel