Alabama regulators dismiss challenge against utility’s solar charge, approve increase

Mark Johnston, former director of Camp McDowell in Nauvoo, Alabama, stands in front of one of the camp’s solar panels, which are subject to Alabama Powers unjust solar fees. (© Emily Driscoll/SELC)

The Alabama Public Service Commission has dismissed a challenge against Alabama Power’s discriminatory solar charge, which has limited the rights of Alabama homeowners and businesses to create solar power on their own properties and reduce their electric bills since 2013.

“The Public Service Commission’s decision hurts Alabama Power customers and our state,” says Keith Johnston, Office Director of SELC’s Alabama office. “As the nation moves forward with cleaner energy and the jobs that it creates, the Commissioners and Alabama Power continue to do everything they can to stop it. Not only do they allow this unfair charge to citizens to continue, they increase it.” 

As the nation moves forward with cleaner energy and the jobs that it creates, the Commissioners and Alabama Power continue to do everything they can to stop it. Not only do they allow this unfair charge to citizens to continue, they increase it.”

—Keith Johnston, Alabama Office Director

Over two years after SELC, on behalf of Gasp, and Ragsdale LLC, on behalf of two private Alabama citizens, initially challenged Alabama Power’s unjust rate treatment of solar customers in April 2018, yesterday the Commission granted the utility’s motion to dismiss the original complaint and approved its proposal to increase the existing charge from $5 to $5.41 per month per kilowatt based on the size of the solar system. 

For a typical residential 5-kilowatt system, your bill would start at $27.05 per month, plus a base charge of $14.50 plus the electricity that you use. Your bill starts at over $41 before you use any electricity. Alabama Power’s charge claws back any potential savings from investing in solar, and discourages the use of residential solar statewide as a result.

One of the highest backup fees, or “standby charges,” of any regulated utility nationwide, Alabama Power’s monthly fee on customers who install and use solar panels to power some of their energy needs at their homes, businesses, and schools has impeded Alabama’s solar progress.

Recent decisions in other states have often rejected, or required a review of, these types of charges. For example, the Alabama Commission’s decision follows an April ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court to strike down a similar solar charge as discriminatory. SELC alerted the Commission to the Kansas decision in May.

While Alabama Power itself has noted that customer demand for renewable energy is growing rapidly, it's ongoing roadblocks to prevent more residents and businesses from reaping the benefits of solar is an issue that many Alabamians are clearly paying attention to. A public hearing on the solar fee challenge in November 2019 drew a massive crowd, with many attendees standing in the aisles and in the adjoining room to hear expert testimony.

“Given the overwhelming attendance at November’s public hearing, it’s clear that access to solar is incredibly important to the people of Alabama, and the economic growth, bill relief, and energy choice that come with it,” says Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “It is unfortunate that the Commission has once again put the interests of Alabama Power over cleaner, more affordable choices that would greatly benefit Alabamians, our economy, and the environment.”

SELC attorneys and our clients, as well as the private citizen plaintiffs, are currently considering options and assessing next steps. 

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