SELC op-ed: Alabama Power falls behind as other Southern utilities invest in solar

Solar farms provide benefits across the board to rural communities; the development of an 80 MW solar farm in Northern Alabama's Lauderdale County is projected to have cumulative economic benefits of $148 million, including earnings connected to 437 jobs and $52 million in local tax revenue, according to the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research.  (© iStock)

More and more utilities across the Southeast are getting on board with solar, and Southern Company utilities are no exception in wanting to reap the significant cost savings this fuel-free resource provides when energy demand is at its highest.

Yet Alabama Power is the exception among its sister utilities in neighboring states, as well as in comparison to TVA, which continues to move into the renewable energy realm in its Northern Alabama territory.

In an op-ed published today in the Birmingham News, SELC’s Solar Initiative leader, Katie Ottenweller, and Keith Johnston, Managing Attorney for SELC’s Birmingham office, compare and contrast how other utilities clearly recognize the potential of solar power while Alabama Power continues to miss out on the economic benefits and cost savings from investing in renewable energy.

Some highlights from the piece are excerpted below.

“Alabama Power Company is notably absent from the growing ranks of utilities across the South that are now investing in affordable solar power to capture cost savings for customers.  

“Buying power from large solar farms is now cheaper than utilities' cost to generate power using traditional power plants, meaning that investing in solar power is a no-brainer – it produces significant savings for customers.

“Unsurprisingly, solar panels are at their most productive on hot, sunny days when fossil electricity is at its most expensive.  

“Homegrown solar power also puts boots on the roof in our communities, creating good-paying, local jobs that can't be outsourced.

“Just east, Georgia Power will have over 900 megawatts (MW) of solar power on its system by the end of 2016.

“Buying power from rural solar farms is projected to save Georgia Power's customers several hundred million dollars.

“Last April, Mississippi Power announced it is partnering with solar developers and the U.S. Navy to build two utility-scale solar farms totaling 53 megawatts.

“A month later, Mississippi Power announced an additional 52 MW project. These projects will represent 2 percent of Mississippi Power's energy mix, creating significant cost savings for customers.

“To the south, Gulf Power announced in January of 2015 that it is partnering with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to build three solar farms totaling 120 MW in Northwest Florida.

“In northern Alabama, an area served by the Tennessee Valley Authority, an 80 MW solar farm is being developed in Lauderdale County for purchase by TVA just across the river from the retiring Colbert Fossil Plant. The solar farm is projected to have cumulative economic benefits of $148 million, including earnings connected to 437 jobs and $52 million in much-needed local tax revenue.

“Alabama Power, you're surrounded on all sides by utilities that are moving now to take advantage of affordable solar power. 

“It's high time for you to start harvesting Alabama's most abundant natural resource and all the benefits that come with it.”

Full text of the op-ed is available here.

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