SELC, partners push for open dialogue around energy efficiency in Alabama

Alabama rose from ranking 41st in 2015 to 39th in the nation according to the ACEEE’s 2016 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. Though statewide progress on efficiency has largely been hampered by a lack of formal policy proceedings, the Alabama Building Commission’s adoption of efficiency standards for all state-funded buildings is a positive step forward. (© ACEEE)

A rate increase proposed by Huntsville Utilities, a municipally-owned utility in northern Alabama, has spurred discussions around the importance of making energy efficiency programs more widely available in a state where efficiency policies have not been widespread.

Last night, the Huntsville City Council approved the 2.75% rate increase for all of the utility’s 182,000 customers, which will add an estimated $4.00 to an average family’s monthly bill once it goes into effect in February. Huntsville Utilities has asserted the increase is necessary to keep up with rising operating costs and energy demands from the growing community it serves.

After the hike was proposed earlier this month, SELC and partner Energy Alabama have advocated for the utility to offset the rate increase by investing in robust energy efficiency programs and making clean energy more accessible for all customers.

Following the City Council’s denial of a proposed rate increase in April 2016, Huntsville Utilities was asked to go back to the drawing board and create a new plan for all rate classes that adequately accounts for impacts to low-income ratepayers.

Utility representatives say the new plan achieves that goal, and that customers seeking to reduce their bills can and should be looking to also reduce their consumption. SELC and Energy Alabama are working to raise awareness and understanding of the myriad benefits energy efficiency provides. 

“As the cleanest, cheapest energy resource, energy efficiency must be included as part of the conversation for meeting energy demands in Alabama,” said Keith Johnston, Managing Attorney for SELC’s Birmingham office. “Not only can these programs help customers struggling to pay their bills, the benefits of lowering carbon emissions and other air pollutants while creating local jobs extend across the board.”

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked Alabama 39th in the 2016 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, rising two positions in the rankings compared to 2015. With some of the lowest electricity program budgets in the country, the report states that Alabamians generally do not have access to a variety of energy efficiency services, and that the state should seek new utility business models that encourage customer energy efficiency.

“A major first step in moving the needle and opening access to energy efficiency is to start an open dialogue with utilities and make the case for financial models that remove disincentives and encourage customers to save energy,” said Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama. “We are hopeful that the Huntsville City Council members heard the message, and we look forward to future discussions with Huntsville Utilities to establish a robust, transparent process that includes all stakeholders going forward.”  

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