Public Service Commission must think Alabamians fell off a turnip truck

Laura Casey
Laura Casey

Today’s guest columnist is Laura Casey.

If you’d like to be a guest columnist, please click here.

Alabama was the scene of an epic smackdown a hundred years ago. Would our state electrify with public power, or would we electrify with private power and the monopoly it entailed?

In one corner was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). In the other corner was Alabama Power.

FDR campaigned hard against the greed of private power companies. Alabama voters heard his message and sent him to Washington with a whopping 85% of the vote. Within months, President Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) into law: a public power project born in our own Muscle Shoals.

Alabama Power saw the threat to their profits and monopoly. They immediately sued. They lost in court, but turned around and won a backroom deal afterwards that contained TVA. But so incensed and worried were they, that the corporate executive leading the fight went on to challenge FDR for the presidency. He lost, but we didn’t win.

Today, Alabama residents are paying the price.

TVA still serves north Alabama, but Alabama Power reigns over the lower two-thirds of our state, from Birmingham to Mobile. Alabama residents pay the highest power bills in America. That burden falls directly on Alabama Power customers.

Alabama Power charges the hard-working people of Alabama a shocking 30% more than residents served by TVA.

Alabama Power charges an outrageous solar fee that has essentially blocked solar panels and solar jobs from one of the sunniest states in America.

Alabama Power charges us to build their power plants while reaping a guaranteed profit on their mere existence. Right now, as the company blocks residential solar from Alabama, they are building a billion-dollar fossil-fuel expansion, on our dime.

Angry? You should be.

But how does this happen? Who makes all of this possible?

The Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC).

The Alabama Public Service Commission is three people we elect statewide to approve every penny Alabama Power collects from us. The public trust involved is profound. But you’ll never see their decisions being made publicly. Everything happens behind closed doors at the Commission.

Our high power rates? The Commission uses a formula that automatically sets our rates to give Alabama Power a return on equity of around 13%. That is 30% higher than industry average and costs us billions. There is nothing Alabama Power can do to lose money, and we have no opportunity to ever examine the expenses we shell out billions of dollars every year to cover.

Those nonexistent solar panels? The Commission allows a solar tax so sky-high that only 132 homes out of the one-and-a-quarter million served by Alabama Power have solar panels. In the words of NPR, the fee is in “a class of its own.” Our state is being locked out of choice, clean energy, and the jobs that come with both of them, just to protect Alabama Power’s profits.*

The billion dollars in new power plants? The Commission approved this in June. Alabama Power’s grounds were that hot, southern Alabama would soon become a “winter peaking” utility. Without question, the commissioners said, “Of course!” Now we are on the hook for paying for that expansion and all the profit it will bring Alabama Power for decades to come.

What needs to change? Transparency. We need a public rate setting process NOW.

The Commission has not held a public rate case in FORTY YEARS. Rate cases are the rigorous public process used across America to set fair utility prices. Two of the three current commissioners went on record in 2013 as being adamantly opposed to one. The third commissioner, Republican Terry Dunn, disagreed. He lost his seat the next year.

I am currently suing the three commissioners under the Alabama Open Meetings Act for their closed-door dealings. Last November the commissioners ejected me and former Commission candidate Kari Powell for quietly recording (an activity expressly allowed by our Open Meetings Act) a hearing on that sky-high solar fee. The commissioners CONFISCATED OUR PHONES before letting us return, rather than let the public see what was happening behind their closed doors. That case was brought, and recently argued, before the Alabama Supreme Court by former Democratic candidate for Attorney General Chris Christie, where it awaits decision. [This case was decided on Friday by the Alabama Supreme Court: Alabama Supreme Court sides with PSC in case over cell phone recording of hearing]

While that case worked its way to the state Supreme Court, the Commission took it upon themselves to ban the use of ALL electronic devices at OUR public hearings. They did that just days before holding a multi-day, marathon hearing on that new billion-dollar plant. During that hearing, our three elected commissioners sat in the audience like mere observers, asked no questions and did not participate in any way. The hearing was closed to all but the few who were present and willing to spend twelve-hour days packed into a hearing room in Montgomery with pen and paper. It was as if we were reliving FDR’s mammoth battle against private power from a century ago. Because we are.

What is happening at the Public Service Commission right now is not government. It looks far more like organized crime. We are long overdue for a change. Alabama deserves better than politicians who work behind closed doors for the few at the expense of the rest of us. Secrecy is not a formula for success, it is a formula for corruption.

*On September 1, the PSC granted Alabama Power’s motion to dismiss a challenge to the fees it charges residential customers who use solar panels or other methods to generate their own electricity. Even though the fees are one of the highest in the nation, a rate increase was also approved.

Laura Casey is currently running as the Democratic candidate for the President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. She is a former actuary and attorney, who is thrilled to be talking about making Alabama the best it can be! (Much gratitude to energy historian Casey Cater for his 2019 book “Regenerating Dixie: Electric Energy and the Modern South” which sparked many of the thoughts and ideas set forth in this article.)

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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19 thoughts on “Public Service Commission must think Alabamians fell off a turnip truck”

  1. First off, Twinkle Cavanaugh, I mean come on, really? She has the backbone of a jellyfish. The PSC is a puppet position for the utilities in Alabama and Twinkle is their puppet. If any of you have ever spoken to Ms. Cavanaugh, you know exactly what I mean, sorority girl phony nice, and no spirit, borderline ditzy.

    From here we have alternative energy, which has been buried in the ground every time it comes to light. Alabama Power does not want solar, they want fossil fuels and some hydro, but no solar. To their point, Solar is not as efficient as it should be. The amount of energy produced by solar and the batteries needed to store the energy are simply not efficient at this time. It’s getting better, but not there just yet. But charging MORE to customers of Alabama Power Company to seek out alternative energy is just horrible, greedy, unethical, and typical of a power corporation who has politicians in their back pockets. This is exactly the type of relationship that warrants term limits on politicians.

    Even if the politicians were corrupt and there was an inquisition, the people protecting them are lawyers, the people suing them are lawyers and worst off is the fact that the politicans are all lawyers which makes fighting the good fight difficult with all this incestuous relationship (top this off with the fact that the Alabama Bar, who receives complaints against lawyers are lawers too and protect many of these scum from persecution).

    So the people in Alabama are somewhat screwed and it all starts at the top, STOP ELECTING LAWYERS! AND GET RID OF TWINKLE! Sorry but the anger is overwhelming sometimes, bordering insantiy with our elected officials. The PSC office has been very weak and controlled for years and the officials elected are supported by the very people who are corrupt enough to know that electing a weakling is best to serve their own needs, not in the best interest of citizens.

    So the best option is to encourage alternative energy, offer discounts, not penalties for those seeking cleaner energy, it’s utterly ridiculous that we are charged MORE for alternative energy. There are communities across America that use alternative energies to reduce expenses for citizens, they actually help people, not gig them like Alabama Power.

    I always ask myself about power poles, they too are antiquated, if trees line the power lines, bury the lines, don’t put up more poles, this reduces maintenance costs and outside contracts as well as reduces power outages, duh. How about Algae fueled generators? The use of Tesla batteries instead of battery houses? If nuclear energy is so safe and cost efficient, why is Alabama Power shuttering their nuclear plants? Why not convert those into heat generators and burn garbage using the heat to spin large generators or produce heat for steam generation? The list goes on and on but does not matter one bit unless Alabama power opens the door to it’s customers to promote reduction in energy costs, not hinder progress. But remember it is a circle, Alabama Power, lawmakers in Montgomery, and the PSC, and it is corrupt.

  2. Laura, I understand your frustration with the solar fee, so tell me how you would remedy the following situation:

    Generally, electricity has to be produced at the instant it is demanded. Otherwise, a brownout occurs. So assuming we have lots of solar on houses, and one day out of five it’s rainy or snowing and the solar can’t provide the house needs, so millions of houses suddenly draw power from the utility.

    To meet that one day in five demand, the utility has to build generators that sit idle four out of five days. How do they pay for them? Somehow they have to cover the construction and operation costs.

    Do they charge very steep rates for the one in five days they are needed? Do they make the customers who don’t have solar bear the costs? Or do they charge a solar fee?

    I’m sincerely interested in your solution to this issue.

    1. That is an excellent question! Like you, I was hoping to glean more information at that solar hearing in November. This is how it went instead: Right before shutting me down, and ejecting me from the proceedings for recording them, the staff member running the proceedings (an administrative law judge) shut down all questions related to how Georgia Power (also under the Southern Company umbrella with Alabama Power) handles back up service and pricing related to it, as not relevant.

      The commissioners, not being attorneys and expressly not interested in participating in their own hearings, sat there silently, (intentionally so, as that was their defense for not being subject to the Open Meetings Act). The goal of our Public Service Commission should be to get the answers to questions like yours. Instead the commission has turned this into a game of gotcha where nonprofit entities (NGOs) must act on behalf of us, the public, in the absence of an attorney general who should be fighting for us, but chooses not to. The end result is that the commission treats rate hearings as an adversarial proceeding where we the public are the adversary.

      In that vein, the second (and last witness) was presented by those NGOs fighting on behalf of us, the public. That witness testified that the back up charge from Alabama Power was based on lost revenue and not the actual cost to provide service. Leaving that hanging in the air, Alabama Power rested without asking any questions or refuting that statement. And they could do that because ten months later the commission would “decide” that they were fine with the fee regardless, in favor of Alabama Power, as always.

      Which is to say, you have enunciated the problem exactly. There should be a well documented answer to your question, especially given that the commissioners purportedly reached a decision with regards to that fee yesterday. Yet nothing in the record illuminates how or why they decided that fee was not just acceptable, but that it should be RAISED. There were no public comments, questions or discussion by the commissioners whatsoever (also in violation of the Open Meetings Act, I might add). The commissioners should be asking the very question you asked, and they should be asking it publicly until we get a documented answer on the record. Instead the commission acts strictly as defense to preserve any and all attempts to chip away at the monopoly that is Alabama Power, at our very real expense, environmentally and economically.

      It’s time we have a government that actually crafts an energy policy that makes sense for this state and the people in it. Something that has been woefully lacking for far too long.

      NPR article on the solar fee: https://www.npr.org/2019/06/02/728761703/to-some-solar-users-power-company-fees-are-an-unfair-charge

      Transcript of the solar hearing available here, pages 35, 125 and 128 referenced above: https://www.pscpublicaccess.alabama.gov/pscpublicaccess/PSC/PSCDocumentDetailsPage.aspx?DocumentId=dec01995-5aa9-4f61-8b40-1aecaa2eddc1&Class=Filing

    2. Hi Don,

      This isn’t really how the grid works though. The problem is where you start by saying “assuming we have lots of solar of homes…” That’s just the thing. We don’t have a lot of solar on homes. We have so little that the ebbs and flows of solar generation look no different that the random consumption pattern of any other home when viewed by a grid operator.

      Thousands or millions of homes do not suddenly go out because of a cloud. It would quite literally take a massive proportion of our energy being generated from rooftop solar before the combined fluctuations become a problem noticeable by grid operators. For instance, Hawaii had this problem.

      Hawaii solved this problem, not by taxing solar, but by requiring advanced inverters that help smooth the fluctuations and also requiring new solar installations to have battery storage.

      So, in short, what you state as a problem is only a hypothetical until Alabama becomes Hawaii, and even then, there are better policy choices than the blunt instruments of taxes.

  3. What an incredibly disingenuous article. According to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, eia.gov Alabama Power residential rates are lower than Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin. Our total average ANNUAL bill is higher because Alabama Power customers use heat pumps at a higher rate than any other utility in the country. That means they use electricity for both cooling AND heating because the VERY LOW electric rate makes it’s the best choice for both cooling AND heating. States above Alabama geographically experience harsher winters where heat pumps become inefficient and thus they use other sources of energy to heat their homes. They also experience less harsh Summers so they don’t need AC as much, keeping their energy USAGE less. The profit they make is mostly returned to Alabama Power Company stock holders in the form of a 4.47% dividend yield. Something that many Alabama residents own and view as a very reliable investment for their retirements. I work with all kinds of businesses across the State and have never met a group, that from top to bottom, is more professional than Alabama Power. They are responsible for most of the lakes in our state which provide recreation to all of the citizens of the State as well as visitors from other states. Alabama residents vote for the PSC and have chosen their representatives. You’re attempting to confuse people in order to have them view Alabama Power in a negative light so that you can increase your political success.

    1. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that the few are benefiting on the backs of the many. Particularly the backs of our workers and retirees, who, along with the rest of us, have seen their Alabama Power bills increase by 20% over the last decade, but may not be lucky enough to have the golden ticket you and others may have (which they, as customers of Alabama Power, directly pay for). As we have paid those increases, Southern Company investors have made billions, and Alabama Power company executives have made millions, each and every year. That money did not grow on trees. That money came directly out of the pockets of the people of Alabama. That is for no other reason than the public service commission has said for years that Alabama Power deserves to earn a profit rate that is head and shoulders above industry average. Those are our shoulders they are standing on. And it is time for the people of Alabama to say enough.

      https://www.energyandpolicy.org/alabama-power-earned-1-billion-in-profits-over-industry-average-on-the-backs-of-customers-since-2014/

    2. How disappointing that the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against the people’s right to know what’s going on in government. That means it is up to the state legislature to remedy that and show us that the PUBLIC Service Commission might really supposed to be transparent and serve the public. (Don’t everyone hold your breath at once.)

      As to the comments about the doomsday scenario should Alabama have the same opportunities for solar power as some foreign, distant land like . . . Georgia. . . .Nuff said. And I was quite surprised to learn we need to get ready for extreme cold that will tax our power system so much that we need billions of dollars more in AP’s pocket. ‘Cause, you know, I don’t have enough sweaters. . . .

      I also have a difficult time feeling sorry for a private utility that not only is guaranteed its profit, it has one of the “highest profit rates in the country, so much so that over the last few years, it collected $1+ BILLION more than if its profit rate had been the national average.” https://bit.ly/355Pctr

      And oh, by the way, all you people who lost your job during the pandemic, hang on because come September, AP is going to start charging fees and shutting off your power if you can’t pay during the extreme cold winter they say they need more infrastructure for.

      Thank you, Laura Casey, for standing up for WE THE PEOPLE. And folks remember her name when you vote because that is the only say you will have over whether Alabama reaps the jobs and benefits from solar energy and, heaven forbid, joins other states who have “gotten” it.

  4. Fairness and consumer protection requires transparency and accountability. Alabama needs to expect, demand and insist on fairness from an essential monopoly.

    Also self protect, document and call them out if you live in a historically black neighborhood and they try to tell you they inspected and the power lines running through the trees are not theirs.

    Let them know you are not gullible or stupid and see how fast they respond and get a crew cutting the trees. SAVE YOUR NEIGHBORS FROM NEGLIGENCE AND GREED!

  5. Oh, snap! Alabama politics injected into public utilities!? Well, duh!!

    Alabama is such a corrupt state in managing political power (greed/money – e.g., Mike Hubbard) and actual public need, that I see no foreseeable solution – and I have lived here since 1978.

    As long as the Republicans hold onto this state, there will be no fair, equitable distribution of wealth and control to the little people. But in fairness, there has been a cavalcade of corrupt Democrat politicians, too, in the bad ol’ years.

  6. Absolutely correct, the PSC does no homework regarding any decisions they make. I have confirmation of that regarding a recent decision they made in favor of charging customers of a private sewage treatment plant in a north Alabama small city a whopping $76.80 per month for sewage fees! This is for condos, not private homes and most owners don’t even live in them permanently or rent them out. I guess this is one way of penalizing north Alabama again for TVA. They did no research into the fact there is a lawsuit against this sewage treatment plant (ongoing for several years) due to their lies about fees, etc being charged customers. Public records are available if you want to check this out.

  7. RE: “Laura Casey is currently running as the Democratic candidate for the President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. She is a former actuary and attorney, who is thrilled to be talking about making Alabama the best it can be!”

    With no disrespect to Ms Casey specifically, Alabama has quite enough Democrat and Republican attorneys occupying state political offices, thank you! I personally believe ALL elected state offices should be limited to four years – state and federal…period. Too many life-long politicians are slurping at the public trough. Elected office is NOT a career!! Alabama political corruption, especially at the state level, is legendary.

    1. Thank you so much for that question! This is a common question, and I am thrilled at the opportunity to elaborate. The distinction is between bills and rates. Many people in Alabama are told our rates are middle of the pack so we should accept them, and our bills are high because it is the South and it is hot, and because we rely on heat pumps in the winter. Both are disingenuous.

      First, our bills. We in Alabama do pay the highest power bills in the highest in the nation: https://wallethub.com/edu/energy-costs-by-state/4833/. As you can see by the link, it is not just because we are a southern state.

      It is because Alabama Power rates are set by the Public Service Commission to give them one of the highest profits among regulated utilities in America: https://www.energyandpolicy.org/alabama-power-earned-1-billion-in-profits-over-industry-average-on-the-backs-of-customers-since-2014/.

      So, second, as far as rates go, it is important to recognize what they include (mammoth profits) and do not include (environmental protections).

      As you pointed out, it is relevant to compare our rates to others. But let’s compare our rates to the appropriate peer group. As noted in my article, Alabama Power customers pay an average rate 30% higher than Alabamians served by Tennessee Valley Authority. But Alabama Power customers do no better when compared to the other largest regulated utilities of our neighbors in the south. Alabama Power customers pay 10% more than Georgia (Alabama Power’s sister company Georgia Power, under Southern Company), nearly 20% more than Florida, 30% more than Mississippi, and a whopping 50% more than Louisiana.

      This helpful link from the U.S. Energy Information administration allows you to compare rates by provider, not just broadly by state: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/sales_revenue_price/pdf/table6.pdf. It is worth noting that Alabama Power’s own average rate per kWh has increased nearly 5% this year alone, to 13.41 cents, according to their annual report.

      So it is easy to dismiss our rates as middle of the pack. But in light of the mammoth power bills that so many people in our state struggle under, and the mammoth environmental ticking time bombs posed by Alabama Power coal ash pits lining our waterways, dismissing them is a massive disservice to the people of Alabama, both environmentally and economically. The money Alabama Power collects is paid by our workers and retirees, and no penny should be taken for granted.

      At the end of the day, we in Alabama deserve an open and transparent rate-setting process. That has not existed for forty years. Good government makes good sense for EVERYBODY in Alabama.

  8. Hello all! Thank you for your thoughtful responses! Unfortunately, we have had a bit of a technical glitch in getting the individual reply feature to work that we have not been able to resolve, so please accept this more broad, blanket response with my apologies. Hopefully I will be able to address most, if not all, of your questions.

    (1) Highest Power Bills in America

    We in Alabama do pay the highest power bills in the highest in the nation: https://wallethub.com/edu/energy-costs-by-state/4833/. As you can see by the link, it is not just because we are a southern state, and use a lot of energy, or because we use heat pumps.

    It is because the Public Service Commission sets our Alabama Power rates to give them one of the highest profits among regulated utilities in America: https://www.energyandpolicy.org/alabama-power-earned-1-billion-in-profits-over-industry-average-on-the-backs-of-customers-since-2014/.

    Indeed, just this morning there was an article on how Birmingham, the largest metropolitan area in Alabama and the heart of Alabama Power territory, has the highest urban energy burden in America: https://www.al.com/news/2020/09/birmingham-tops-list-of-25-cities-for-energy-costs-relative-to-pay.html.

    The distinction is between rates and bills, where the average Alabama rate is indeed middle of the pack. But that statewide-average rate is pulled down by TVA. So let’s specifically compare Alabama Power rates to the appropriate peer group. As noted in my article, within our own state, Alabama Power customers pay 30% than people in north Alabama who are served by TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). But Alabama Power customers do no better when compared to our neighboring states and their largest regulated utilities. Alabama Power customers pay 10% more than Georgia (Alabama Power’s sister company Georgia Power, under Southern Company), nearly 20% more than Florida, 30% more than Mississippi, and a whopping 50% more than Louisiana.

    This helpful link from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows rates by every provider in America, not just broadly by state: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/sales_revenue_price/pdf/table6.pdf. By way of update, Alabama Power’s own average rate per kWh has increased nearly 5% this year alone, to 13.41 cents, according to their annual report.

    This is why it’s VERY IMPORTANT to look at Alabama Power rates specifically, and not the statewide average rate. People in our state are struggling under mammoth power bills. Instead of their money going to their own pockets, or to protect our state from the mammoth environmental ticking time bombs posed by the multiple Alabama Power coal ash pits lining our waterways, their money is going to line Alabama Power pockets. The money Alabama Power collects is paid by our workers and retirees. No penny should be taken for granted. As Alabama Power executives and investors walk away rich on the backs of Alabamians, who is preparing for the inevitable environmental disasters awaiting us from those coal ash pits? That is something we need to keep in mind this week in particular as Hurricane Sally prepares to bear down on southern Alabama and the six-hundred acre coal ash pit sitting at the top of Mobile Bay. Learn more at https://www.mobilebaykeeper.org/coalash.

    We in Alabama deserve an open and transparent rate-setting process. Because of the PSC, the state supreme court, our attorney General AND the legislature, That has not happened in forty years. Good government makes good sense for EVERYBODY in Alabama, environmentally and economically. We are long overdue to make it happen.

    (2) Solar Fee

    As with rates (and masking high Alabama Power rates by touting a statewide average), much of the discussion about the solar fee has been disingenuous. It is not whether there should be one, but how much it should be, and HOW will we move to more clean energy, at both the residential and utility level, in the decades to come.

    With that in mind, and hoping to learn more by way of an answer, I attended the PSC solar hearing in November. This is how it went: Right before shutting me down, and ejecting me from the proceedings for recording them, the staff member running the proceedings (an administrative law judge) shut down all questions related to how Georgia Power (also under the Southern Company umbrella with Alabama Power) handles back up service and the fee related to it, as not relevant.

    The commissioners, not being attorneys and expressly determined not to participate in their own hearing, sat there silently. That silence was, in fact, was their successful defense for not being subject to the Open Meetings Act. So instead of trying to arrive at the answers to these profound and difficult questions, the PSC sat there in silence as Alabama Power moved to slam the door shut even harder on solar energy in Alabama by RAISING the fee, which the PSC approved after this article was written.

    What we did learn is that the fee the PSC has approved is both the highest in America, and based strictly on lost revenue (therefore, profit) and not the actual cost to provide service. Alabama Power rested without asking any questions or refuting that. They could do that because our Commission has no interest in demanding any better from them on our behalf.

    Therefore, without any substantive evidence or justification, the Commission turned around and approved both the fee and the increase, without any comments or discussion. Meaning Alabamians are now left completely in the dark as to why we are all paying the price—environmentally, economically and literally—to keep solar power out of Alabama. Our PSC is acting strictly to protect Alabama Power’s monopoly stranglehold on Alabama—and all the profits that go with it—even as solar energy and solar energy jobs are booming across the rest of America.

    That’s not good government, but it is excellent corruption. Alabamians deserve government bodies that ask tough questions before shelling out our money, and then make sure to put those answers in the record. Right now the PSC is busy throwing our money in the air like it’s a game show to see how much Alabama Power can catch.

    NPR article on the solar fee: https://www.npr.org/2019/06/02/728761703/to-some-solar-users-power-company-fees-are-an-unfair-charge

    Transcript of the solar hearing available here, pages 35, 125 and 128 referenced above: https://www.pscpublicaccess.alabama.gov/pscpublicaccess/PSC/PSCDocumentDetailsPage.aspx?DocumentId=dec01995-5aa9-4f61-8b40-1aecaa2eddc1&Class=Filing

    (3) Lawyers / Running for Office / Political Success

    I went to law school because I understand that law drives everything we do as a nation, yet it is so far removed from the average person. Never has it been clearer to me than with the PSC how law—and math, my other background—are being used to hide what is being done to the people of Alabama and intimidate people into silence. I am grateful to be able to step forward in this moment and offer my perspective. I have no interest in sitting in that seat for a decade as the incumbent has (over which time our Alabama Power rates have increased 20%).

    There are only so many people in Alabama to run for office. If good people do not step forward to run, we will be left with the puppets. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

  9. By Laura Casey:
    Hello all! Thank you for your responses! Unfortunately, we have had a bit of a technical glitch in getting the reply feature to work that we have not been able to resolve, so please accept this more broad, blanket response with my apologies. Hopefully I will be able to address most, if not all, of your questions.

    (1) Highest Power Bills in America

    We in Alabama do pay the highest power bills in the highest in the nation: https://wallethub.com/edu/energy-costs-by-state/4833/. As you can see by the link, it is not just because we are a southern state, and use a lot of energy, or because we use heat pumps.

    It is because the Public Service Commission sets our Alabama Power rates to give them one of the highest profits among regulated utilities in America: https://www.energyandpolicy.org/alabama-power-earned-1-billion-in-profits-over-industry-average-on-the-backs-of-customers-since-2014/.

    Just yesterday there was an article on how Birmingham, the largest metropolitan area in Alabama and the heart of Alabama Power territory, has the highest urban energy burden in America: https://www.al.com/news/2020/09/birmingham-tops-list-of-25-cities-for-energy-costs-relative-to-pay.html.

    The distinction is between rates and bills, where the average Alabama rate is indeed middle of the pack. But that statewide-average rate is pulled down by TVA. So let’s specifically compare Alabama Power rates to the appropriate peer group. As noted in my article, within our own state, Alabama Power customers pay 30% than people in north Alabama who are served by TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). But Alabama Power customers do no better when compared to our neighboring states and their largest regulated utilities. Alabama Power customers pay 10% more than Georgia (Alabama Power’s sister company Georgia Power, under Southern Company), nearly 20% more than Florida, 30% more than Mississippi, and a whopping 50% more than Louisiana.

    This helpful link from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows rates by every provider in America, not just broadly by state: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/sales_revenue_price/pdf/table6.pdf. By way of update, Alabama Power’s own average rate per kWh has increased nearly 5% this year alone, to 13.41 cents, according to their annual report.

    This is why it’s VERY IMPORTANT to look at Alabama Power rates specifically, and not the statewide average rate. People in our state are struggling under mammoth power bills. Instead of their money going to their own pockets, or to protect our state from the mammoth environmental ticking time bombs posed by the multiple Alabama Power coal ash pits lining our waterways, their money is going to line Alabama Power pockets. The money Alabama Power collects is paid by our workers and retirees. No penny should be taken for granted. As Alabama Power executives and investors walk away rich on the backs of Alabamians, who is preparing for the inevitable environmental disasters awaiting us from those coal ash pits? That is something we need to keep in mind this week in particular as Hurricane Sally prepares to bear down on southern Alabama and the six-hundred acre coal ash pit sitting at the top of Mobile Bay. Learn more at https://www.mobilebaykeeper.org/coalash.

    We in Alabama deserve an open and transparent rate-setting process. Because of the PSC, the state supreme court, our attorney General AND the legislature, That has not happened in forty years. Good government makes good sense for EVERYBODY in Alabama, environmentally and economically. We are long overdue to make it happen.

    (2) Solar Fee

    As with rates (and masking high Alabama Power rates by touting a statewide average), much of the discussion about the solar fee has been disingenuous. It is not whether there should be one, but how much it should be, and HOW will we move to more clean energy, at both the residential and utility level, in the decades to come.

    With that in mind, and hoping to learn more by way of an answer, I attended the PSC solar hearing in November. This is how it went: Right before shutting me down, and ejecting me from the proceedings for recording them, the staff member running the proceedings (an administrative law judge) shut down all questions related to how Georgia Power (also under the Southern Company umbrella with Alabama Power) handles back up service and the fee related to it, as not relevant.

    The commissioners, not being attorneys and expressly determined not to participate in their own hearing, sat there silently. That silence was, in fact, was their successful defense for not being subject to the Open Meetings Act. So instead of trying to arrive at the answers to these profound and difficult questions, the PSC sat there in silence as Alabama Power moved to slam the door shut even harder on solar energy in Alabama by RAISING the fee, which the PSC approved after this article was written.

    What we did learn is that the fee the PSC has approved is both the highest in America, and based strictly on lost revenue (therefore, profit) and not the actual cost to provide service. Alabama Power rested without asking any questions or refuting that. They could do that because our Commission has no interest in demanding any better from them on our behalf.

    Therefore, without any substantive evidence or justification, the Commission turned around and approved both the fee and the increase, without any comments or discussion. Meaning Alabamians are now left completely in the dark as to why we are all paying the price—environmentally, economically and literally—to keep solar power out of Alabama. Our PSC is acting strictly to protect Alabama Power’s monopoly stranglehold on Alabama—and all the profits that go with it—even as solar energy and solar energy jobs are booming across the rest of America.

    That’s not good government, but it is excellent corruption. Alabamians deserve government bodies that ask tough questions before shelling out our money, and then make sure to put those answers in the record. Right now the PSC is busy throwing our money in the air like it’s a game show to see how much Alabama Power can catch.

    NPR article on the solar fee: https://www.npr.org/2019/06/02/728761703/to-some-solar-users-power-company-fees-are-an-unfair-charge

    Transcript of the solar hearing available here, pages 35, 125 and 128 referenced above: https://www.pscpublicaccess.alabama.gov/pscpublicaccess/PSC/PSCDocumentDetailsPage.aspx?DocumentId=dec01995-5aa9-4f61-8b40-1aecaa2eddc1&Class=Filing

    (3) Lawyers / Running for Office / Political Success

    Thank you for the support! I went to law school because I understand that law drives everything we do as a nation, yet it is so far removed from the average person. Never has it been clearer to me than with the PSC how law—and math, my other background—are being used to hide what is being done to the people of Alabama and intimidate people into silence. I am grateful to be able to step forward in this moment and offer my knowledge. I have no interest in sitting in that seat for a decade as the incumbent has (over which time our Alabama Power rates have increased 20%).

    There are only so many people in Alabama to run for office. If good people do not step forward to run, we will be left with the puppets. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

  10. David,

    I respect Ms Casey for being willing to run for elected office. She is correct that willing (and able) people need to step up to the challenge.

    However, aren’t you setting a precedent in this open, community dialogue blog to use it as a platform for individuals running for office? ComeBackTown is a Birmingham-area-based vehicle, isn’t it? State political issues are important, but they are usually outside Birmingham purview (we don’t even have control of our fair share of paid state taxes).

    Just sayin’…

    1. Karl,
      You are 100% correct on both issues. ComebackTown is Birmingham centric, but it has become clear it is difficult for Birmingham to progress without the State of Alabama–so I’ve broadened the mission of ComebackTown to include both Birmingham and Alabama. You are also correct that up until now I have not featured public candidates either local or statewide, but I decided to make an exception in this case. One of the facts Laura presented is that we in Birmingham and in the central and southern parts of our state pay 30% more for power through Alabama Power than Northern Alabama businesses and citizens pay through TVA. This obviously negative impacts our ability to compete. Laura’s column is probably not going to change the results of this election, but I thought a brave and decent woman should have the opportunity to speak. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments.

  11. As I was researching the two candidates going into the general election, I stumbled upon this fantastic discussion. I have greatly enjoyed reading the arguments and counterarguments. Thank you for offering your perspective, insight, and sources!

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