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Energy Alabama, Center for Biological Diversity, and Appalachian Voices Call for Inspector General Investigation into TVA’s Membership in Utility Air Regulatory Group

Energy Alabama, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Appalachian Voices are calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) to open an investigation into TVA’s membership in and use of ratepayer dollars for the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) and other unincorporated trade groups including the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group (USWAG), and Utility Water Act Group (UWAG).

To view the full document calling for the investigation, click here.

In a letter to the TVA OIG, advocates are voicing serious concerns about the use of ratepayer dollars for use in litigation and/or lobbying by UARG and its sister organizations. Any such activities would be in direct violation of TVA’s board-approved policy, which stated, “These organizations will not lobby on behalf of TVA or represent TVA in litigation without specific authorization to do so”.

TVA has repeatedly claimed the dues paid to UARG and related groups have not been used for litigation or lobbying. TVA’s own records demonstrate that its 2017 UARG dues were substantially higher than what UARG claimed went to technical expenses. TVA paid $462,967 to UARG in 2017, almost double the $265,721 UARG claimed was spent on technical expenses.

A reasonable observer can only conclude the difference of TVA’s dues were in fact spent on lobbying and/or litigation, which UARG described as “legal” expenses. TVA either gave permission to use ratepayer money for legal expenses or UARG broke its agreement with TVA.

In light of the facts outlined above, TVA appears to be in direct violation of the policy adopted by the TVA Board of Directors on November 10, 2016.

Therefore, TVA either provided specific authorization to UARG to lobby or litigate on its behalf, while refusing to disclose such authorization to the public, or TVA has violated its Board of Directors’ directive.

“What troubles us the most is that TVA forced its customers to make political speech by taking money from their utility bills and using it for DC-based lawyers,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama. “Most Alabamians don’t like an arm of the federal government taking their money meant to keep the lights on in order to sue another arm of the federal government.”

“UARG and its secretive affiliates sue the federal government on behalf of polluters with the sole goal of weakening bedrock environmental protections,” said Howard Crystal, Senior Attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.  “It’s appalling that TVA customers are being forced to subsidize these dirty efforts through their rate payments, which put utility profits above the public interest.”

TVA’s stated mission is to improve the quality of life throughout the Tennessee Valley through the integrated management of the region’s resources. This mission makes no provision for using ratepayer money to fund lobbying and/or litigation activities in the pursuit of regulatory rollbacks.

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!

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