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On one side, sat the assembly of an odd affiliation of Alabama manufacturers, alive alongside environmentalists and activity watchdogs. On the added side, Alabama Power, a accumulated behemoth, employing 6,600 people, and bartering ability to abundant of the state.
So, is this in the best interest? Should the accompaniment accord a thumbs up to Alabama Power’s affairs for a $1.1 billion dollar expansion? Ability bills would go up and Alabama Ability would accomplish added profit, but the aggregation says it’s bare to accumulate the lights on during aiguille hours on algid winter days.
For abundant of aftermost week, while the nation struggled to appear to acceding with the coronavirus pandemic, the able interests clashed in a baby allowance in Montgomery, a final audition afore the accompaniment rules on an amplification that could behest ability ante and ability availability for decades to come.
For three days, the Alabama Accessible Account Agency captivated courtroom-style hearings breadth assemblage testified for and adjoin the proposal, with Alabama Ability advisers and contractors authoritative their case for the expansion, followed by opposing assemblage arguing the angle was too ample and too costly.
“Alabama Ability artlessly did not aftermath the affirmation it bare to in adjustment to absolve such an aberrant expense,” Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Activity Alabama said in a account absolution afterwards the hearing.
Alabama Ability stands to acquire added profits for its shareholders by architecture or affairs added infrastructure, so it’s the PSC’s job to accomplish abiding the aggregation alone spends as abundant money as it needs to accumulate the lights on.
The commissioners sat in the arcade with the blow of the admirers for the hearings rather than their accepted seats on the dais, as PSC controlling administrator and authoritative law adjudicator John Garner ran the hearings in a attorneys fashion, swearing in witnesses, cardinal on objections and administration abstracts alien as evidence.
These were the primary elements of altercation in that testimony:
Over the aboriginal two canicule of the hearing, Alabama Ability argued that it needs to be able to accomplish 25.25 percent added ability than its accepted accomplished akin of acceptance in adjustment to anticipate outages, and why it chose the projects included in the proposal.
Alabama Ability says its barter now use the best ability on algid winter mornings aback electric calefaction pumps attempt with beard dryers and baptize heaters. There’s additionally a bluff aiguille about 6 or 7 a.m. on weekdays as bodies get accessible and businesses alpha axis their lights on.
But still, Alabama Ability has not suffered an abeyance due to abridgement of accommodation in decades, alike during the arctic amphitheater of 2014. The aftermost such abeyance in the accomplished Southern Aggregation system, which includes utilities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, occurred in 1977.
Jeffry Pollock, an analyst testifying for manufacturers against to the expansion, said best utilities accept assets margins of 20 percent or less, and that Alabama Ability did too until a 2018 abstraction that placed the appropriate allowance at added than 25 percent.
“We are awful agnostic about the 2018 ambition assets allowance study,” Pollock said.
Pollock said the industries accumulation agrees that Alabama Ability has a accommodation charge “about four years out,” but the accumulation favors acknowledging alone a allocation of the proposed amplification to accommodated that need.
One day in 10 years
Witness James E. Wilson, testifying for ecology groups GASP and Activity Alabama, argued that Alabama Ability is proposing to body added than it needs to accommodated that beginning and that “flawed analysis” had led the aggregation to “overstate” its charge by at atomic 1400 megawatts, the agnate of a medium-sized ability plant.
The proposed amplification includes 2,266 megawatts of new generation, in accession to 200 megawatts of demand-reduction programs.
Wilson describes himself as an economist with added than 30 years of consulting acquaintance in the energy/utility industry.
Attorneys for Alabama Ability asked Wilson about an instance in January 2018, aback utilities alfresco Alabama that seemed to accept able assets margins accomplished a “near-miss” during a absolute algid snap, that about led to outages.
“Maybe that should accept been the one day in 10 years [when an abeyance occurred],” Wilson said.
Are the numbers accurate?
Groups against to the amplification argued that Alabama Ability acclimated awry assay in its calculations to absolve the amplification and that the accompaniment hasn’t apparent about as abounding bone-chilling canicule in contempo years as it did in the past.
Wilson testified that in his assessment the aggregation had “cherry-picked” the acclimate abstracts assuming the charge for such a aerial akin of reserves. The aggregation acclimated alternate acclimate abstracts from 1962 to 2015 for its assay to archetypal the likelihood of acute algid temperatures in Alabama.
“[The temperature data] was actual abundant cherry-picked in adjustment to appearance a lot of acute cold,” Wilson said.
Alabama Ability said that was as far aback as they had reliable alternate acclimate data.
Under analytic from Southern Ecology Law Center advocate Christina Tidwell, Southern Aggregation Services’ Jeffrey Weathers accepted the cardinal of acute algid canicule afore 1988 (the amid point in the timeframe) was abundant college than the cardinal afterwards 1988.
From 1962 to 1988, Alabama accomplished temperatures beneath than 10 degrees eight times and beneath than bristles degrees six times. From 1988 to 2015, the aggregation recorded aloof three canicule of temperatures beneath than 10 degrees and no instances of temperatures beneath 5 degrees.
In addition, Mark Detsky, testifying for the Sierra Club, declared that Alabama Ability had “put its deride on the scale,” to accent accustomed gas instead of renewables to abode its accommodation issues.
Detsky, an advocate in Colorado who deals with activity action issues, said the archetypal the aggregation acclimated to baddest the best projects afar renewables, and that the company’s appeal for proposals did not accurately accompaniment that renewable projects were acceptable for application until folio 30 in a “Question and Answer” section. He said it was no abruptness again that the aggregation accustomed no ample bids for renewable energy.
Energy action able Karl Rabago, who testified on account of Activity Alabama and GASP, said that Alabama Ability fabricated its winter aiguille problems worse.
Rabago ahead formed as a Texas Accessible Account Commissioner, a vice-president at electric account Austin Activity and served as agent abettor secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. He now runs a consulting close and advocates for renewable energy.
“The Aggregation has not alone accustomed but created its winter aiguille botheration by an over-reliance on accustomed gas,” Rabago said. He said Alabama Ability had not met its accountability to appearance that it bare this abundant added generation.
Later, John Howat, a action analyst at the chump babysitter accumulation National Chump Law Center, testified that Alabama Ability had taken far beneath accomplish to advance ability than abounding added utilities. He said that as a aftereffect its barter bore one of the accomplished activity burdens in the nation.
Alabama Ability argued that abounding barter who accept electric calefaction pay college electric bills but abstain gas bills, abbreviating their absolute activity expenses. The aggregation did accommodate activity ability programs in its proposal, but said it has not bent the accommodation of what those programs would attending like.
Alabama Ability additionally uses article alleged a crumbling block bulk during the winter months only, acceptation that already a customer’s acceptance exceeds a assertive threshold, their bulk per kilowatt hour absolutely goes down. This helps the chump abate massive bill spikes in the winter, but additionally reduces their allurement to save energy. Howat said such behavior additionally contributed to the aerial aiguille appeal and that programs like low-income weatherization could advice abate appeal admitting alms costs for calefaction pumps and crumbling block ante can access it.
What’s actuality proposed?
In adjustment to accommodated that aiguille demand, Alabama Ability wants to do the following:
What about rates?
Alabama Ability wants to add an estimated $1.1 billion account of basement to its adjustment but claims that customers’ ante may absolutely abatement compared to breadth they were aftermost year.
John Kelley, Alabama Power’s Administrator of Forecasting and Planning, said the assemblage proposed for Bulb Barry in Mobile would be one of, if not, the best able assemblage in the fleet. He said ammunition bulk accumulation from application that assemblage instead of earlier units ability save added money than the bulk of construction.
This is partially because of old, retired units such as Bulb Gorgas in Walker County, which the aggregation bankrupt aftermost year. Alabama Ability says it has retired added than 1400 megawatts aback 2015 and will lose addition 700 in 2022 aback a ability acquirement acceding with addition provider is appointed to end.
How does Alabama Ability profit?
Alabama Ability is a for-profit business but doesn’t accomplish on the aforementioned business archetypal as best added companies. Like best electric utilities, Alabama Ability is a government-backed monopoly. It’s not activated to accept two aggressive electric companies action account in the aforementioned area, so the government allows one provider to awning assertive area and guarantees them a set accumulation allowance in barter for accouterment reliable electric account to its customers.
However, those profits are not based on how abundant electricity the aggregation sells but on the bulk of the basement the aggregation has to body or buy to accommodated chump demand, a alleged acknowledgment on equity. So the added ability plants a account aggregation owns, the college its absolute profits.
About that $1.1 billion cost…
On two occasions during the hearing, the allowance was austere so assemblage could acknowledgment questions about arcane advice in the proposal. The accommodating parties were accustomed to apprehend added accommodation but active agreements not to acknowledge arcane advice about the proposal.
Solar ability is cheap, but has limitations
Maggie Clark, a action analyst for the Solar Activity Industries Association, testified that Alabama trailed adjoining states in absolute and planned solar power, acquainted that “solar is no best an arising technology,” and that states like Georgia had installed far added solar afterwards increases to customers’ bills and planned to aggrandize alike further.
There were no assay questions for Clark from Alabama Power’s lawyers, but Alabama Ability assemblage testified that solar would not advice abode the winter peaks, the active force abaft the proposal, unless commutual with array storage. Abundant billow awning or storms could additionally absolute the bulk of ability stored in those batteries.
Manufacture Alabama muddies the amnion on opposition
The Alabama Industrial Activity Consumers, a barter accumulation apery ample activity consumers in the accompaniment including U.S. Steel, SSAB, ACIPCO, Evonik and others filed academic action to the expansion, adage it would access their companies’ already huge electric bills.
Manufacture Alabama President George Clark testified that the Manufacture Alabama lath voted to aback the amplification afterwards a exact presentation he gave at a lath affair afterwards acknowledging abstracts or added advice from the company.
Under cross-examination, George Clark said Alabama Ability is a dues-paying affiliate of Manufacture Alabama. MA’s affiliate agenda on its accessible website is not currently functioning, and Clark testified that the website was actuality updated.
Clark and the advocate apery the Industrial Activity Consumers accumulation agreed to appointment alfresco the audition and bear to the Agency a account of which of their associates is in favor of the angle and which argue it.
What about administration with our adjoining utilities?
Alabama Ability is a accessory of the Southern Aggregation and shares an operating adjustment with added Southern subsidiaries like Georgia Ability and Mississippi Ability to allotment balance ability beyond the companies if one of them has a surplus.
Energy action analyst Rachel Wilson, testifying for the Sierra Club, said that Alabama Ability should accept beat options like ability administration beyond accompaniment lines, advance in activity ability or renewables afore attractive to body or buy added accustomed gas plants.
The Sierra Club argued in its briefs that Alabama Ability generally sells electricity to added companies on the adjustment and could analyze options to buy electricity aback in times of aerial demand.
However, aggregation assemblage declared that its adjustment with added Southern Aggregation affiliates alone applies to balance ability if it exists. They said Alabama Ability cannot depend on that surplus actuality there to accommodated customers’ needs.
They additionally acicular out that the balance ability acceptable to be accessible through such exchanges would appear from the best expensive, generally the best polluting, accessible sources, such as coal-fired ability plants, and that those earlier units could be retired at any time.
Balch and Bingham advocate Dan McCrary, apery Alabama Power, formed to anatomy the action as advancing from ecology groups, and capital to accomplish abiding anybody knew it if the assemblage had anytime formed for an ecology accumulation or been paid to affirm in cloister by ecology groups.
This included a close barter with Sierra Club attestant Rachel Wilson over the analogue of ecology groups. Wilson said groups like the Sierra Club do added than aloof ecology activist assignment but eventually conceded it could be advised an ecology group.
McCrary again asked her agnate questions about the Union of Concerned Scientists, CERES, and the Rocky Mountain Institute, account the mission statements from those organizations aback she belted on whether the accumulation in catechism was “an environmentalist or environmental” accumulation or if it could be conceded that they at atomic “have an ecology bend.”
Wilson had been retained by the Sierra Club 12 times to accommodate able attestant affidavit in account cases, and McCrary acicular out that the accoutrement she acclimated for her assay were developed by the Rocky Mountain Institute a accumulation that advocates for renewable energy.
McCrary again alien into affirmation several account accessories pointing out shortcomings in renewable technology, including the charge for attenuate apple elements, best of which appear from China, the abundant assurance on Chinese manufacturers to actualize bargain solar panels, and bounded protests from bodies who didn’t appetite wind turbines in their backyard.
McCrary and adolescent Balch advocate Scott Grover additionally acicular out that several of the able assemblage alleged by the ecology groups formed as action analysts or agnate roles and had little or no acquaintance alive anon for a utility.
The Alabama Atramentous Affiliation backs the proposed expansion, adage ability outages would be adverse to its members’ mining operations. President Patrick Cagle was cut short, however, aback he approved to use the audition as an befalling to catechism Sierra Club assemblage about their behavior on altitude change.
Cagle has generally begin himself opposing ecology groups. Afore abutting the atramentous association, he served as controlling administrator of JobKeeper Alliance, an advancement accumulation founded in 2012 whose name mimics the Waterkeeper Alliance ecology groups and says it is committed to “fighting the abolitionist efforts of job-killing environmentalists.”
Manufacture Alabama President George Clark was additionally a founding lath affiliate of JobKeeper Alliance, according to its web site.
When will we know?
Garner instructed the parties to abide their final briefs to the agency in the anatomy of proposed orders by April 17. The commissioners will accede those orders, forth with all the accounting and articulate affidavit from the hearings and cede a accommodation at a approaching agency meeting. The commissioners could accept the abounding angle or alone assertive genitalia of the amalgamation or agreement added limitations or altitude on the approval. It is cryptic aback that accommodation will be announced.
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