SELC files to defend rooftop solar rights in Alabama

Citizens, conservation groups challenge Alabama Power’s unjust fees on rooftop solar customers

Alabama citizens and conservation groups are challenging Alabama Power’s unjust monthly fee imposed on customers who install and use rooftop solar systems to power some of the energy needs at their homes, businesses, and schools.

SELC, on behalf of Gasp, and Ragsdale LLC, on behalf of two private Alabama citizens, have jointly filed a complaint asking the Alabama Public Service Commission to determine that Alabama Power’s treatment of solar customers is unfair, contrary to public interest, and otherwise unlawful.

While Alabama Power has taken incremental steps toward investing in large-scale solar projects, it is imposing significant roadblocks on homeowners and small businesses who want the same benefits from investing in solar,” said Senior Attorney Katie Ottenweller, leader of SELC’s Solar Initiative. “This unwarranted fee is limiting Alabamians’ rights to create solar power on their own properties and reduce their electric bills.”

Based on the size of a homeowner’s solar system, the $5-per-kilowatt monthly fee is added on top of other fixed and variable charges that these customers continue to pay each month to Alabama Power.

For a typical household’s 5-kilowatt solar array, this charge costs families an additional $300 each year, clawing back about half of customers’ average savings from solar.

The charge puts a huge dent in homeowners’ return-on-investment in a solar system. The fees alone add about $9,000 in costs over the lifetime of an average system, greatly increasing the payback period for the homeowner’s investment.

I was initially interested in installing solar panels because I wanted to reduce my energy use and monthly bills,” said Dr. Jim Bankston, a Tuscaloosa resident and Alabama Power customer who is paying the solar charges. “But this unfair treatment is an abuse of monopoly power that infringes on the rights of all customers. You shouldn’t be punished for attempting to curb your energy use, just as you wouldn’t be punished for making your home more energy efficient.”

The most egregious charge on solar customers by a regulated utility in the country, Alabama Power’s monthly fee is unlawful and continues to suppress solar progress in the state, five years after going into effect.

Similar charges have been proposed and rejected by state public service commissions across the country. In 2013, as a result of public backlash surrounding the proposal, Georgia Power withdrew a proposed charge that was nearly identical to sister utility Alabama Power’s fee. 

Meanwhile other Southern states are enacting policies that clear the way for homegrown clean energy investments, providing savings for homeowners and new job opportunities in solar—an industry that is growing 17 times faster than the U.S. economy. 

Solar leasing has had a dramatic impact on cutting customer bills in South Carolina.

While states like North Carolina and South Carolina have seen an increase in rooftop solar investments, Alabama continues to lag far behind and miss an incredible opportunity for local job creation.

Neighboring states with pro-solar policies have now seen the unparalleled opportunities to create new jobs, generate local, clean energy, save customers and businesses money, and reduce impacts on human health,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “If solar customers were treated fairly, Alabama would have the opportunity to reap these same benefits.”

To learn more about how Alabama stacks up to neighboring states, see Alabama Solar: Just the Facts.

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