Op-Ed written and published by Michael Churchman, Executive Director of Alabama Environmental Council, engaging citizens toward sustainable living and stewardship of the environment. We organize and empower Alabamians to preserve the environment for current and future generations. Michael can be reached at email@example.com.
The Alabama Environmental Council (AEC) continues to help build a new dialogue around energy issues in the South. This new dialogue doesn’t falsely pit clean air and water against the economy, but instead seeks to recognize that these things depend on and promote one another. AEC supports recycling as an alternative to landfills, which creates economic opportunities and reduces waste. Economic and environmental interests work in tandem.
In the energy realm, working together, we can develop and implement a whole range of energy policies and plans to bolster the economy and ensure that we are not destroying the very resources that make our prosperity possible.
When we no longer have clean air and water, the foundation for a healthy economy and a healthy citizenry crumbles.
Across the region and country, utilities, regulatory bodies and advocacy groups are working to create opportunities for growth while simultaneously protecting our natural resources. Many agree that it will take a comprehensive approach to using our resources to provide energy; there is no one silver bullet. But creative and proactive thinking and careful planning are necessary for this purposeful approach to succeed.
Success in tackling today’s energy issues takes collaboration rather than just confrontation, and honest communication rather than clinging to preset positions.
For these reasons, AEC is taking part in Alabama’s Public Service Commission informal meetings. The rates we pay for our electricity are directly linked to the plans and decisions made by Alabama Power Co. (APCO) executives. The type of fuel APCO burns and the pollution controls they install to insure that our air, water and public health are safeguarded are among the many factors that affect the rates that we pay.
Alabama Power is a monopoly. Without competition, customers don’t have a choice on where to buy their electricity. Without a choice of a competing company, there are no market forces pushing the utility to offer services and prices in the best interest of customers.
The Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Attorney General’s office are charged with protecting the public’s interests. However, for various reasons, the ways these mandates have been implemented have not played out favorably for Alabamians. For 30 years, citizens have been left in the dark on decisions about rates and on operational factors such as investing in efficiency programs, as well as evaluating costs of pollution controls and clean energy. All of these decisions have been made behind closed doors with the blessing of the Public Service Commission, and then announced to the public.
The PSC, charged with balancing utility and consumers’ interests, has allowed Alabama Power to earn some of the highest profit margins in the country, leaving the company’s customers paying some of the highest bills. They have perhaps been very efficient in reviewing APCOs books but not very effective in addressing the appropriate profit.
It’s time for that to change.
And it’s time for both the PSC and Alabama Power to fully lift the veil on decisions that affect our electricity rates, our air, water and health.
There is a reason that AEC and other groups are taking a keen interest in these rate proceedings. Our group, one of the oldest conservation advocacy groups in Alabama, simply wants shared transparency, proper planning and full stakeholder engagement in decisions about factors that affect both the price we pay for our electricity as well as the natural resources we’re trying to protect.
AEC supports a future in which increased energy efficiency and clean energy are core parts of meeting demand for energy. Improved technology and the changed economics of natural gas, along with requirements to reduce pollution, have affected coal jobs . However, Alabama coal jobs increased from 2008 to 2011 as APCO's use of Alabama coal declined.
Jobs in energy efficiency and clean energy are on the rise. Investing now in these efficiency and renewable technologies will stimulate the economy. We deserve to be able to know and participate in weighing these economic and environmental factors that affect our energy future.
To make transition a reality in Alabama, though, we need to change the application of the current rate system, which doesn’t provide the same opportunities as other states for critically assessing utility rates and resource planning. Anything less than the transparency and openness that comes with opportunities for regular full evidentiary hearings for rates and resource planning will ultimately stifle our economy and harm our air and water.
We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we at AEC see an opportunity for many groups to participate in the process and to work together to make our state a great place for our children and grandchildren.