SELC files federal challenge against Alabama regulators’ approval of unjust solar fees

Camp McDowell, nestled in the woodlands adjacent to Alabama's Bankhead National Forest, generates a portion of its energy through solar power. Former camp director of 25 years Mark Johnston, who is subject to the charges for his residential 6-kilowatt solar system, says it’s time to put Alabamians before Alabama Power by removing the unwarranted solar fees.

Citizens and conservation groups filed suit in federal court July 12 against the Alabama Public Service Commission for approving Alabama Power’s punitive and discriminatory charges targeting customers with rooftop or on-site solar.

Filed by SELC and Ragsdale LLC on behalf of GASP and four Alabama Power customers who invested in solar installations on their properties, the lawsuit follows the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s  decision not to take enforcement action against the PSC. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery.

“We’re asking the Court to require the Commission to follow the law so that Alabama Power will stop unfairly taxing private solar investments,” says Keith Johnston, director of SELC’s Alabama office. “Alabama is being left behind by other Southern states when it comes to solar generation, and the jobs, bill savings and other benefits that come with it. These charges are a significant roadblock to our state’s success.” 

FERC’s decision not to act is consistent with its customary practice in response to such enforcement petitions. However, in a joint concurrence statement, FERC Chairman Glick and Commissioner Clements expressed concern that the PSC may be violating federal law by discouraging rooftop or customer-sited solar growth in Alabama, finding that “[p]etitioners have presented a strong case that the Alabama Commission failed to adhere to regulations set forth in [FERC’s order establishing its PURPA regulations], violating the requirements of [federal law].”

Since 2013, Alabama Power’s unjust monthly fee has limited the rights of Alabama homeowners and businesses to use solar power on their properties to reduce their electric bills. One of the highest fees on solar customers of any regulated utility nationwide, the monthly fee is imposed on top of other fixed and variable charges and significantly reduces customers’ expected savings, making it impractical to invest in solar power.

It’s time to put Alabamians before Alabama Power by removing these unwarranted solar fees.”

—Mark Johnston, resident

“One job of our Public Service Commission is to protect customers like me from unfair treatment by monopoly utilities, like Alabama Power,” says Mark Johnston, an Episcopal priest and retired executive director of Camp McDowell, who is subject to the charges for his 6-kilowatt solar system. “It’s time to put Alabamians before Alabama Power by removing these unwarranted solar fees.”

SELC initially challenged Alabama Power’s discriminatory treatment of solar customers in April 2018 at the PSC. In October 2020, the PSC granted the utility’s motion to dismiss the groups’ complaint and approved its proposal to increase the existing monthly charge from $5 per kilowatt, based on the size of the customer’s solar system, to $5.41 per kilowatt.

“The Public Service Commission is more intent on protecting Alabama Power’s profits than helping customers lower their energy bills and reduce their pollution footprint,” says GASP Executive Director, Michael Hansen. “A utility monopoly should not be able to keep solar energy out of reach for Alabamians who could truly benefit from it.”

Want more SELC Stories? Get our monthly enewsletter featuring highlights from across the South.

More News

As TVA closes coal plants, it must begin transition to clean energy

As a federal agency, the largest public utility in the nation, and a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, the Tennessee Valley Authority has...

Petition pushes North Carolina to cut power plants’ carbon pollution

With a yes vote today, the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission approved our petition to cut heat-trapping carbon pollution from po...

Twin Pines mining plan threatens iconic Okefenokee Swamp

What is the Okefenokee? The Okefenokee Swamp is located in southeast Georgia. The swamp, which covers 438,000 acres and is the largest blackwate...

Executive Director’s note on the Byhalia triumph

From SELC Executive Director Jeff Gleason: This holiday weekend brought long-hoped for news: pipeline developers in Tennessee announced they wer...

Victory for Southwest Memphis: Byhalia Pipeline is done

In a tremendous victory for Memphis, Plains All American Pipeline announced that the company was pulling the plug on the controversial Byhalia Pi...

Cuts to clean water protections threaten Chesapeake Bay restoration

In April 2020, the prior administration’s so-called Navigable Waters Protection Rule stripped federal Clean Water Act safeguards from wetlands an...

More Stories