Lawsuit Says Alabama Power Blocking Solar Power With Unfair Fees

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A federal lawsuit has been filed against the state’s regulators over the costs charged by Alabama Power to consumers who generate their own power with rooftop or on-site solar panels.

Environmentalists say that the high costs are intentionally limiting the use of solar energy in the sun-drenched state.

The costs, according to Alabama Power, are required to maintain the infrastructure that supplies backup power to consumers when their solar panels are insufficient.

On behalf of four Alabama Power customers who installed solar panels on their properties and the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, or GASP, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Ragsdale LLC filed the lawsuit on Monday against the Alabama Public Service Commission and the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution or GASP.

“We’re asking the court to order the Commission to obey the law so Alabama Power can stop charging private solar investments unfairly,” said Keith Johnston, head of the SELC’s Alabama office.

“When it comes to solar power and the employment, bill savings, and other advantages that come with it, Alabama is falling behind other Southern states “According to the SELC’s statement. “These allegations are a major impediment to our state’s progress.”

“It would not be appropriate for the Alabama Public Service Commission to comment on current litigation,” a spokesman for the commission stated in an email.

People who use solar panels or other ways to generate part of their own power are charged a $5.41 per kilowatt cost by Alabama Power, which is dependent on the capacity of the home system. On a typical 5-kilowatt system, this equates to a $27 monthly cost. According to the law center, the average solar panel installation for a home costs around $10,000, and fees add another $9,000 or more during the system’s 30-year lifespan, drastically raising expenses and decreasing any financial advantage to the homeowner.

The payments, according to Alabama Power, are required to maintain the backup power infrastructure. “We think Alabama law and good ratemaking standards were followed in achieving a fair assessment of the cost for this service,” an Alabama Power spokeswoman stated.

“It is critical to us that all 1.5 million of our clients be handled equally. The lawsuit makes no difference to our stance; we feel the claim is without merit. Customers who want Alabama Power to back up their own generation should pay their fair part of the expenditures, according to Alabama Power spokesman Alyson Tucker.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to pursue enforcement action against the Public Service Commission was denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month.

Two members of the five-member panel, however, released a separate statement, expressing worry that Alabama authorities may be breaching federal regulations aimed at promoting the growth of cogeneration and small power plants and reducing the need for fossil fuels.

While the lawsuit concerns solar energy systems for homes and businesses, Alabama Power received clearance for its own major solar project on Tuesday.

Alabama Power’s application for an 80-megawatt HEP Greenville solar project in Butler County was authorized by the Alabama Public Service Commission. According to the business, the annual output provided by the HEP Greenville solar project is comparable to the amount of energy utilized in roughly 15,000 households.

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