SELC op-ed: It’s time to shine light on Alabama Power’s decision-making process

In Alabama, there is a crucial need for an open, transparent process around how Alabama Power, the state’s largest utility, makes long-term energy planning decisions.

Along with some of our partners, Keith Johnston, Managing Attorney for SELC’s Birmingham office, discussed important lessons Alabama’s Public Service Commission could learn from its southern neighbors in an op-ed published over the weekend in the Montgomery Advertiser. The piece focused on the imperative reasons for keeping customers informed about the energy planning process and how those decisions will affect their wallets.

Some highlights from the piece are excerpted below.

"Last month, the Georgetown, Texas, city council signed contracts that will provide power to homes and businesses 100 percent through solar and wind energy beginning in 2017.

"Closer to home, the Tennessee Valley Authority is in the midst of its 2015 Integrated Resource Planning, which determines the long-term mix of resources needed for generating electricity. When finished, TVA will have held seven public meetings to debate plans for meeting growing demand — plans that include energy efficiency and more renewables, especially solar.

"Together, there are important lessons for Alabama to take away from the Georgetown and TVA examples -- in particular, how to fix the Alabama Public Service Commission's failure to look out for the best interests of families and businesses.

"The PSC's decision-making leaves utility customers on the hook for billions of dollars in expenditures without public review.

"PSC decisions since 2005 have burdened Alabama Power customers with more than $3 billion in power plant upgrades — and some of the highest bills in the country — all without any evidence that they were the most cost-effective and least economically risky alternatives.

"In most other states, decisions with that kind of impact are open to vigorous debate and thorough public review.

"The Georgetown and TVA examples show clearly that viable, affordable alternatives exist and that involving the public in-depth is a win-win for everyone.

"Generating electricity is an expensive endeavor, whether building a solar plant or wind farm, or retrofits for coal plants. These are important business decisions, and the place to weigh their pros and cons is through formal review of the Integrated Resource Plan.

"We believe there is overwhelming evidence that investing in energy sources like solar and wind and in energy efficiency is a more prudent and less costly strategy than sinking money into keeping aging coal plants running.

"We need a public forum in which to have this debate, where all the data can be weighed and the end goal is sound decision-making that will benefit both Alabama families and businesses."

Full text of the op-ed is available here.

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