Concerned Citizen

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.

Energy Alabama Provides Comments for Public Service Commission on EV Charging Stations

Energy Alabama, along with the Southern Environmental Law Center and Gasp, provided comments to the Alabama Public Service Commission regarding its Proceeding to Determine the Commission’s Jurisdiction Over Electric Vehicle Charging Stations.

Our comments included two important points for the Commission to consider:

  1. An entity owning and/or operating an Electric vehicle charging station (EVCS) should not be subject to Title 37. In other words, these entities should not be under the jurisdiction of state utility regulators. This position represents the consensus among all commenting parties in the proceeding.
  2. Investments by Alabama Power in EVCS should maximize public benefits.

Concerning Alabama Power’s investments in the electric vehicle charging space, we included two further points:

  1. The Commission should require that utility investments in EV infrastructure provide net benefits to customers and promote EV adoption while still allowing a competitive market to develop. Ideally, the Commission should give utilities clear guideposts for these investments.
  2. We recommend that the Commission propose a technical conference or other forum where rate design questions can be explored further with respect to EV charging stations.

Our full comments can be found here: https://alcse.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/2018-01-26-SELC-Reply-Commments-Re-EVCS.pdf

Greener State Only Leaves You With Less Green. Here's Why.

Greener State Only Leaves You With Less Green. Here’s Why.

Greener State is a new program from Alabama Power that claims to give utility customers the chance to cover up to 100 percent of their energy usage with renewable sources. Which sounds great in theory because, after all, who doesn’t like renewable energy? In practice, though, Greener State isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

TL;DR – Alabama Power, and really all utilities, should stop charging their customers a premium for the privilege to buy renewable energy. Renewable energy is already the cheapest power to procure. Instead, they should focus on expanding access to renewable energy sources – for everybody. Alabama Power should make it easier for people to use renewable sources, not charge them extra.

The Skinny on RECs

Renewable Energy is great! Let’s expand access to it, instead of charging a premium.

Now, let’s back up. According to Greenerstate.com, the Greener State program allows Alabama Power customers to “greenify” their energy consumption with something called Renewable Energy Certificates. They’re called RECs for short, and the idea is that you can buy enough of them to cover all of your energy usage.

If you do that, you will have (in effect) used 100 percent renewable energy without buying and installing an expensive solar setup at your home. Meanwhile, you’ll be helping Alabama Power invest in wind, solar and biomass sources. The program doesn’t cost a whole lot, and you’re even taking care of the environment at the same time.

What’s not to like? More from Greenerstate.com:

RECs are the strongest driver of renewable energy development, and give you the ability to support renewables without the heavy cost of owning personal systems. You can certify that your electric usage is covered by renewable energy, but not spend tens of thousands on a solar panel system.

Since 2014 Alabamians have covered 3,267,000 kWh of their homes’ usage with renewable energy through our REC program. Now you can be a part of the movement with Greener State. This market force leads to more demand and accelerates the growth of renewable energy. RECs are a win-win-win.

A Win-Win?

First of all, a solar panel system for your home doesn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars. But let’s leave that for another time. Instead, let’s focus on that last part. For Alabama Power, Greener State definitely is a win-win. For customers, it’s really not.

To understand why, let’s take another look at the Greener State website. An article titled “The Future of Renewables in Alabama is Bright… Literally” notes that in December 2017, Alabama Power will begin receiving energy from a 72-megawatt solar plant in Lafayette, Alabama. And that’s not all. Not nearly. The same article mentions 14 hydroelectric facilities, a couple of wind projects and even some biomass energy – all of which Alabama Power supports.

Here’s the thing. If I’m a paying customer of Alabama Power, shouldn’t my money already support renewable energy? I mean, since Alabama Power is so invested in renewables, it just makes sense.

Well, Alabama Power never explains that part. Not at all.

Greener State: Really Just Leaving You with Less Green

Who doesn’t love solar? What we need is MOAR renewables! (Not a premium for the privilege.)

So, what’s the alternative? Here at Energy Alabama, we believe that renewable energy is the best and most cost-effective energy available. So, yes, utility companies should be investing in it. Heavily.

But while Alabama Power’s marketing is slick, Greener State just doesn’t add up. To be clear, investing in renewables is unquestionably a good thing. But in its current form, Greener State merely serves as an example of how Alabama Power values one form of green over another.

Instead of charging a premium to “support” renewable energy that is already in place, why not just continue investing in renewables while expanding access for all? In the long run, that’s the best and most cost-effective solution for Alabama Power and its customers.

And in the long run, that would be the real win-win for everybody.