Concerned Citizen

Polling Shows Alabama Conservatives Want Energy Freedom, Not Status Quo

The results are in: Alabama’s conservatives want energy freedom!

Energy freedom means having more choices. It means a competitive marketplace in which renewables are much more widely available.

What it doesn’t mean is the same old, same old.

So while “freedom isn’t free”, according to Seth Hammett and the Energy Institute of Alabama, the status quo is sure to be more expensive and unacceptable to Alabama.

 

And Now, Some Facts

Let’s back up.

Mr. Hammett recently wrote an editorial that appeared in the Alabama Political Reporter. Mr. Hammett is the ex-Speaker of the House and Chairman of the Board for the Energy Institute of Alabama, the lobbying group representing Alabama’s monopoly utilities. According to Mr. Hammett, Alabama really ought to just side with his monopoly buddies because freedom, or something. He seems to think that because renewables do actually cost money to install and maintain (you know, like any other energy source), his special-interest group of utilities ought to reign supreme.

Yeah, no.

Here are some facts.

  1. The Energy Institute of Alabama (EIA) represents monopoly utility companies that are currently immune to market forces and competition.
  2. EIA claims in the article linked above that Alabama’s utilities are “increasing solar capacity.” Yeah, sure. At the slowest rate of any state in the country. Including Mississippi!
  3. The people of Alabama want choices! Including us! Polling backs us up, and we’ll get to that shortly. It’s simple: Because of utility failures and slow action, consumers aren’t willing to wait any longer.
  4. Alabama conservatives believe in free markets. They believe choices require utility companies to step up their game and compete for their business.

Conservatives Want Choices

Which leads us to the polling.

Recently, WPA Intelligence released a poll that shows Alabama’s conservative voters support utility deregulation, energy freedom, and more renewable options in their energy mix.

Click here for a summary of the poll. Don’t take our word for it! See for yourself!

Now, for a few key findings:

  • More than half of Alabama Republican primary voters (54%) would support passing legislation that would give consumers more freedom to control their energy usage. This is directly in opposition to Mr. Hammett’s argument.
  • Nearly two-thirds (!) support passing legislation that would give consumers more choice in determining how their electricity is produced. Again, this flies in the face of Mr. Hammett’s argument.
  • Seven-in-ten support energy deregulation in Alabama. This would lead directly to several producers competing on price, service, and production methods. Wow!
  • A majority think it is important to have the choice to buy power from a company that uses more renewable energy sources. We agree!
  • Two-out-of-three support the development of clean energy like solar and wind in Alabama. Awesome!

Again, read the poll for yourself. Please don’t just accept our word for it. Read the study. Learn the facts. Don’t let catchy slogans distract you from the truth. Alabama’s conservatives want energy freedom. Period.

Mr. Hammett and the EIA have a vested interest in maintaining the entrenched monopoly. Look, we get it. Lobbyists gonna lobby; he’s doing his job.

However, the conservatives of Alabama have spoken loudly and clearly. The monopoly says freedom isn’t free? We never did either. Freedom sure isn’t the status quo. And energy freedom is almost sure to cost less.

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.

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.