Tuesday, May 1, the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) will decide how much you and I and the rest of Alabama Power Company (APCo) customers will get as a rate decrease.
You probably remember that Congressional action slashed taxes for corporations, including APCo. The head of Southern Company (SO), their parent, said these federal tax breaks to the utilities should give customers a 5-7% rate decrease (1). However, its subsidiary, Alabama Power, says our tax rate decrease will be 9% (2), but there are some other adjustments that it wants to make to protect its creditworthiness. For one thing, it’s concerned that tax payments collected from customers will be lower, so it will get a haircut on the cash flow generated by our monthly payments toward it’s taxes. The company uses these collected payments as “float” to partly fund operations between the time of collection and its deferred tax payments. Also, it wants to protect its creditworthiness by various adjustments and pay itself back for under collected fuel costs, which we owe, but can’t see since the usual report disappeared.
These major changes – which were deemed a “material change”, worthy of reporting to investors through an 8-k filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission – would benefit from some transparent public sharing process well before a few days prior to the scheduled vote.
But late notification is what has happened and continues to happen. Although the utility and the PSC staff have been working on this for months, they only let its customers know about it two weeks before the scheduled vote. You have to know the secret sauce to even search out their plans – buried in the PSC filing system under “How do I”/”Search Proceedings”/”Search for Document” … and more. (End of this search chain has links which are provided in case you’re interested (3)). The PSC meeting agenda, also searchable on the PSC site, is usually only posted on Friday before Commissioners’ Tuesday vote (2). Unlike for sister Southern Company Georgia Power, there is no provision for public working meetings of the Alabama PSC to discuss upcoming electric utility requests before the final vote.
Possibly, the final calculations agreed to through these complex deliberations could all work to our benefit, but most other utilities are watched by internal or external groups dedicated to looking out for customers’ interests. In Alabama, our protection is legally mandated through Assistant Attorney Generals assigned to the PSC to protect our interests. Unfortunately, they act only if the elected Attorney General determines that is in the “public interest”. And there’s not much evidence when or if these capable attorneys are actively involved in our consumer protection. After all, how does anyone but the AG assistants know what the AG defines as “public interest” in this context?
So, I asked for a public hearing now and for changing the process going forward to have a timely hearing whenever the PSC considers a change that requires investor notification (4). I scrambled through unfamiliar procedures to file a proper request in the relatively short time between Tuesday April 17 and Friday, April 27.
If we had had a public hearing process in place back in January 2013, maybe we would have more solar panels and jobs in Alabama. At least there’s a group at work to roll back the damage done to the solar industry and its customers in Alabama by that power company request and hasty PSC decision over 5 years ago (5). It’s not too late for positive change.
Let’s get engaged and tell all the folks running for the PSC in November that we want them to come out from behind the closed doors and make their decisions more transparently. And for candidates for Attorney General, find out how they plan to set their Assistant AG’s to work at the PSC on our behalf – and in our interest.
It’s way past time to open the doors on this major decision process and to improve the extremely “closed” way our electric utility is regulated in Alabama. But it’s not too late to act now.
- https://www.pscpublicaccess.alabama.gov/pscpublicaccess/ViewFile.aspx?Id=8c1bd303-5f4f-40c7-af05-66e2fb0a8366 and https://www.pscpublicaccess.alabama.gov/pscpublicaccess/ViewFile.aspx?Id=26402922-9876-44a8-9de1-c88dadedce37]
- https://ourenergyfreedom.wordpress.com and PSC-Hearing Request-re APC 4-17-18 filings