4 Reasons to Celebrate Clean Energy in Alabama in 2013

 

If you were around Birmingham in late November, you probably heard about (or came to) Renew Alabama: A Night of Positive Energy. Nearly 150 people stopped by Avondale Brewing Company to meet fellow clean energy fans, and celebrate Alabama’s energy progress and potential over a pint and some great dancing music.

What were we celebrating? No one denies that Alabama has a long way to go, but 2013 was a big year for Alabama’s energy transition. Here are 4 reasons to celebrate and ways to build on what’s been done so far!

1. Solar Works in Alabama

Alabama is tied for eighth in the nation for states that would benefit most from solar power, according to a study by Arizona State University that considered not only solar resource quality, but also factors such as economic development and emissions reduction potential. So far, only about 1.4 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) power has been installed in Alabama; that progress is largely due to Tennessee Valley Authority’s Green Power Providers program available in some northern parts of the state. More solar energy means more jobs in Alabama. Alabama industry leaders from Lightwave Solar Electric, LLC  and Huntsville-based Southern Solar Systems joined in at the Renew Alabama event. The 20 kW PV array pictured at the right is a living laboratory to train the next generation at Calhoun Community College, which offers a Renewable Energy associate’s degree through its Alabama Center for Excellence in Clean Energy Technology. For more on solar in Alabama, check out this 12-minute documentary from the Southern Exposure film series:


To keep building: Alabama Power, the largest utility in the state, needs to develop programs like those offered by TVA and neighboring Georgia Power, which fairly compensate people who put solar energy on the grid. Right now, small solar producers pay Alabama Power an initial connection charge and unjustified regular fees thereafter which diminish the economic benefits of installing and deploying this clean, cost-effective resource. In addition to enhancing consumer energy choices, solar power creates local jobs and could offset the need to burn fossil fuels imported from out of state.

2. Wind Power is Rising

Could Alabama's newest tourist attraction look like this? These turbines in Tennessee bring visitors to a nearby park.

Alabama has become a hotbed of wind energy activity. At least four different wind farms have been proposed across the Yellowhammer State. Alabama Power is buying 404 megawatts of wind energy from the Plains (enough to supply 3% of the company’s power) and even erected a tiny 4 kilowatt turbine on its headquarters building in Birmingham. Why? Alabama’s wind resource is better than old maps showed, and wind technology has improved to the point where it can effectively harness Alabama’s wind speeds. Wind is also a great choice economically for our business-friendly state – besides creating jobs at wind farms and in manufacturing (there are already 9 wind-related manufacturers in Alabama), wind power prices are low and predictable, which is great for residential and commercial ratepayers. Jacksonville State University estimates that the proposed Shinbone wind project in Cherokee County would bring in more than $200,000 a year in tax revenue, plus additional indirect benefits including drawing tourists. As all wind farms should, that project is presently undergoing detailed scrutiny of its potential effects on local wildlife to ensure that the site is appropriate and any effects are minimized.

To keep building: We are closely watching State Senate Bill 12 and similar policy proposals that would effectively ban wind development under the guise of prudent regulation. If you live in Alabama, please contact your state senator and tell him/her that properly sited wind is a good industry for Alabama!

3. Clean Energy Saves Lakes and Rivers

Sailors at the Weiss Lake Regatta harness the wind - nearby turbines may be next! Photo: Tatem Summers

Alabama has more than 77,000 miles of navigable rivers containing more freshwater species than any other state, according to the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Power generation accounts for 86% of the freshwater withdrawal in Alabama, which is especially concerning as temperatures rise and droughts occur more frequently; Alabama’s coal plants store billions of gallons of toxic coal ash along the riverbanks. Fortunately, clean energy choices like energy efficiency, wind and solar use very little water and create very little pollution.

To Keep Building: Alabama needs a comprehensive water management plan that balances power generation needs with other uses such as farming and drinking.

4. Alabamians are pushing decision-makers to fairly evaluate energy choices.

The Public Service Commission's role in energy decision-making might best be described as "absent".

For the first time in 30 years, Alabama Power’s decisions – and the weak role of the Public Service Commission (PSC) in challenging them – are the subject of public scrutiny. Since 1983, Alabama Power has used an arcane formula to set rates without public hearings; energy source decisions like spending billions on old coal plants get only an informal public hearing, and there is no public Integrated Resource Plan review process. In 2013, Commissioner Terry Dunn’s call to formally review that process was overridden by Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh, who received nearly $90,000 from coal interests in the 2012 election, and Commissioner Jeremy Oden.

However, the informal review that did take place shined a spotlight on the poor economics of continuing to rely on coal, and the important role the PSC could play in getting Alabama’s energy mix more in line with the clean energy transition already taking place nationally. Now Alabamians know what the PSC does – and doesn’t do.

To keep building: Call on the PSC to hold a formal review of the rate-setting process, and to conduct a public review of Alabama Power’s Integrated Resource Plan.

Finally, the best way to help support a clean energy transition in Alabama is to become a SACE member. Can you make a donation or fill out our Alabama Utility Monitor Network volunteer survey today? Thank you, and we look forward to working with you in 2014!

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