Special to the Advertiser
Imagine if every time you picked a peach off of your backyard tree, the government slapped you with a $10 tax – artificially increasing the price of your own fruit and driving you to buy grocery store peaches instead.
Well, that’s exactly the situation we face with electricity in Alabama.
Every Alabamian could make their own electricity cheaper and cleaner by putting solar on their roof. But Alabama Power has other ideas and insists on dumping a fee on solar users. And not a small fee either. It is a fee that could amount to $9,000 over the life of the system.
Such a fee punishes those that want to generate their own electricity, maintaining the company’s monopoly and keeping Alabamians locked into its services. Not only is it wrong to stifle Alabamians’ energy choices and what we do with our own roofs, but it’s also choking job creation in the state and hurting working families.
The Alabama Public Service Commission has the opportunity to eliminate these excessive fees – and they need to know that it’s what Alabamians want.
Alabama is number one – or at least running neck and neck with South Carolina – for the highest residential and commercial electricity rates in the region. Every month we pay more for our electricity, but we don’t have the option of generating our own electricity. This is a monopoly and it is un-American. Working families and small businesses deserve a more affordable choice.
But this fight isn’t just about the costs we all pay for our energy – it’s also about the health of our families. About one fifth of our electricity comes from dirty coal plants that spew unhealthy amounts of particulate matter, ozone and other pollution into the air we breathe. This pollution not only causes lung disease, including asthma and lung cancer, but has also helped make Birmingham the 14th most polluted city for particulate matter in the nation.
Most of all, this fight is about justice, environmental justice. First of all, this toxic air pollution doesn’t impact everyone equally. African American Alabamians endure roughly twice the particulate matter air pollution that white Alabamians do. Second, as temperatures rise and cities swelter thanks to climate change, it’s the poor and people of color who suffer the most.
By turning from coal to clean energy like solar, we can not only clean up the air we breathe, but also help solve the climate crisis making our summers even hotter and threatening our families. Eliminating onerous solar fees is an important first step.
Now some will say that solar is really only for the rich. But that isn’t the case in states that don’t have anti-solar policies. In most of the country, people can lease solar panels and save money on their utility bills on day one, all without having to put any money down up front.
In Alabama, solar fees eliminate that savings. Worse, Alabama Power even claims it is illegal to lease solar panels. It’s time working-class Alabamians had the same opportunity to have cleaner, cheaper electricity that most other Americans enjoy.
Alabama Power parent company, Southern Company, also operates in Mississippi and Georgia, where it also proposed ways to make home solar unaffordable. Georgia, however, rejected a solar fee in 2013 and in Mississippi home solar owners fought back a Southern Company effort to block their ability to sell electricity back to the grid. As a result, Mississippi has 25% more solar jobs than Alabama and Georgia has 6 times more solar jobs than we do here. We should take heart from these victories and know that solar can win in Alabama as well.
In Alabama, we love competition. We love doing things ourselves, our way. Now it’s time for the Alabama Public Service Commission to open the state up for real competition on energy by getting rid of these fees. It’s time for the commission to let working Alabamians take control of their energy and generate their own electricity.
If you agree, please call Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh at (334) 242-5297 and tell her to get these fees off your roof.
Catherine Coleman Flowers is Senior Fellow of Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement at the Center for Earth Ethics as well as the director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice.