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

Energy Alabama Calls For Public Hearing On Alabama Power Federal Tax Savings

Note: This post is available here as a downloadable press release

HUNTSVILLE, AL — Energy Alabama is calling for a public hearing to help Alabama Power customers understand how the company plans to spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars in savings from the recent federal tax overhaul.

As a result of recent changes to the federal tax code, Alabama Power has a tax adjustment tariff that will return approximately $257 million to the company in reduced taxes. Some of Alabama Power’s plans to distribute this money to customers have been outlined in a recent Form 8-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Alabama Public Service Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow, May 1, 2018, less than two weeks from its initial filing with the SEC.

However, Energy Alabama has serious concerns about this closed-door process:

  1. An 8-K is required for matters about which Alabama Power must inform its investors. It has done so. However, Alabama Power has not informed the public, or its customers, of its plans. Is Alabama Power fulfilling its obligations to Wall Street but not to regular Alabamians?
  2. The 8-K states that Alabama Power plans to return $50 million to customers and use the rest for other purposes, perhaps to improve their borrowing capacity and recoup under-recovered fuel costs. From these filings, we cannot tell exactly what Alabama Power is attempting to do with all of this money. Their plans may be reasonable, but this lack of transparency underscores the need for a public hearing to show how customers are helped and not harmed.
  3. To this end, Energy Alabama is calling for a public hearing so the public can understand exactly what is going to happen with their money AND have a say in the matter. As it stands now, decisions are being made behind closed doors with less than two weeks of notice.
  4. Energy Alabama is also calling for the Alabama Attorney General’s office to act as a true customer advocate and ensure the best outcome on the behalf of Alabama Power customers. What role, if any, did the AG’s office play in the decision-making?
  5. Georgia Power and the Georgia Public Service Commission have already worked out exactly how much money an average customer will save. Both have been forthcoming with this information. We call on Alabama Power, Georgia Power’s sister company, to do the same.
  6. Energy Alabama is not the only one calling for a public hearing. We echo the complaint filed by Ms. Joyce Lanning.

A previous closed-door process led to the unjust and arbitrary solar tax reported by AL.com on Friday. Thankfully, that decision is now being challenged.

For more information about this topic, please contact Daniel Tait by phone at (256) 812-1431, or by email at dtait@alcse.org.