Environmental Groups: Fees Tied to Solar are ‘Unlawful’

Dan Carsen, WBHM

Solar panels at Birmingham's Southern Research sun-farm. Some want these to power an economic boom, but say Alabama Power's fees discriminate and disincentivize innovation.

Attorneys recently filed a complaint with the state Public Service Commission against Alabama Power over extra fees the power company imposes on homes, schools, and small businesses that use solar power. The complaint calls the five-year-old fees “unlawful” and “contrary to the public interest.”

The filing is 32 pages long, but Katie Ottenweller, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center and head of its regional solar initiative, boils it down:

“It’s akin to going to the grocery store and getting an extra tax on your bill because you have a tomato garden in your backyard. Alabama Power has a monopoly. Solar is one of the few ways people can actually control their electricity bills.”

Alabama Power charges an extra $5-per-kilowatt monthly fee for people who use solar. For an average customer, that’s about $30 a month. That can add up to $10,000 over the life of a home solar set-up. The SELC filed the complaint on behalf of two affected property owners and G.A.S.P., a clean-air advocacy group . The complaint was filed with the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utility companies. Ottenweller says Alabama already has among the highest electricity rates in the nation.

“Rooftop solar creates more jobs per megawatt than any other source of energy. There’s 10 times as many solar customers in Georgia and Tennessee as there are in Alabama. I mean this charge has really just put the entire rooftop solar market at a standstill.”

Alabama Power has until May 31 to respond to the complaint. A spokesman said in an email the company is still reviewing it. He added the fees ensure customers without solar panels aren’t “subsidizing those who have them.” Public hearings aren’t scheduled, but lawyers say they could happen over the summer.

The SELC is a sponsor of WBHM programming. WBHM’s news and business departments operate separately.