Alabama’s energy planning leaves citizens in the dark

(© Flickr: hotwired heart)

Every year Alabama Power Company, the state’s largest utility, makes decisions that impact its customers and the state’s energy future.

Unfortunately for Alabamians, the utility and the Alabama Public Service Commission, which reviews and approves the utility’s decisions, denies citizens critical information and leaves them without a meaningful voice in the planning process—rights enjoyed by residents of nearly every other state in the Union.

The result: billions of dollars invested with no clear explanation as to how those decisions are reached.  

SELC has been working for years to open up the process, and a recent report, Left in the Dark: How the Alabama Public Service Commission Makes Customers Pay Billions of Dollars for Alabama Power Investments without Any Meaningful Public Review or Involvement, highlights why.

The utility has invested over $3 billion to modernize outdated coal-fired power plants over the past decade, yet consumers have no idea whether the upgrades represent the most cost-effective and least risky alternatives. By rubber-stamping the expenditures without providing sufficient information or significant public contribution—only an annual informal, off-the-record meeting that lasts less than a day—the Alabama Public Service Commission has left residents in the dark with the task of footing the bill for years to come.

SELC plays an active role in weighing in on our states’ long-term energy planning as utilities look at the costs, reliability, risks and environmental impacts for investing in a variety of energy sources: coal, gas, wind and solar power, and energy efficiency measures. The public’s involvement is invaluable in this process, an ideal shared by utilities in many states, including Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in northern Alabama.

Despite the fact that the two utilities have neighboring territories within the same state, TVA follows a process that looks much different than Alabama Power’s. TVA allows for broad stakeholder engagement and makes the IRP document and several hundred pages of economic, environmental and risk analysis publicly available.

Alabama is the only state in the Southern Company territory, which includes Georgia, Florida and Mississippi, that does not have an avenue for meaningful public participation in the energy planning process.

“Filing a comprehensive plan for long-term energy use should be the beginning, not the end, of the public’s opportunity to be involved,” said Keith Johnston, Managing Attorney for SELC’s Birmingham office. “Alabamians deserve to have an open and transparent regulatory process to ensure that energy decisions are made in our state’s best interest.”

 

Click here to read the full report.

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