(Above: Environmentalists protest at the Alabama Public Service Commission)
The Alabama Public Service Commission on Wednesday hosted the third and final public hearing of their open rate review of the Alabama Power Company.
The purpose of the meeting was to conduct an in-depth examination of the financial aspects of Alabama Power’s business. That certainly happened, but finances were hardly the only topic of discussion during the 12+ hour hearing.
Tea Party leader and local minister John Jordan opened the meeting in prayer, which immediately set off a firestorm on Twitter as members of the Alabama media and an environmental group representative expressed their outrage that prayer was allowed in a public meeting.
Michael Hansen, a communications specialist for GASP, a Birmingham-based environmental group, repeatedly called Jordan’s prayer “batsh** crazy” on Twitter. “I hope to have the clip of that dumb prayer rant ASAP,” Hansen said.
While that was taking place inside the PSC chambers, environmental protestors lined the street outside exercising their first amendment rights.
“Alabama wildflie isn’t a business to buy out,” one sign said. “Coming to a faucet near you,” said another sign, with pictures of dirty water below painted below.
But while most of the signs contained negative messages about the ills of fossil fuels and warnings of impending doom, the one sign with a positive message may have been the most noticeable of them all.
“WE [heart sign] Dunn” the sign said, referencing Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn who has been the only Commissioner on the panel to actively support the environmentalists’ agenda.
While none of the activist would agree to be interviewed on camera, and many of them simply said their signs “speak for themselves,” several of them expressed appreciation for Commissioner Dunn’s support of their efforts.
“Terry Dunn is the only commissioner who realizes none of us are going to be alive ten years from now if things don’t change,” one of the activists said.
Yellowhammer asked if they were concerned with electricity rates spiking if fossil fuels were no longer used as part of Alabama’s energy mix, several of them conceded that was a steep, but necessary, price to pay.
“You don’t care about your energy bill when you have emphysema or the earth is ruined,” the activist quipped. “And you can’t pay an energy bill if you’re dead.”
Back inside, a robust exchange of information was taking place, including over five hours of testimony and Power Point presentations from Alabama Power experts on the company’s financial operations. A diverse array of interest groups and private citizens were given another 5-6 hours to cross-examine Alabama Power representatives and each other.
Advocacy groups and research organizations represented at the hearing included AARP, Southern Environmental Law Center, League of Women Voters, JobKeeper Alliance, PACE, the Alabama Policy Institute, GASP, Alabama Environmental Council, and others.
But although a review of Alabama Power’s finances was the purpose of the public hearing, advocacy groups from both ends of the political spectrum continued to debate during the meeting over the process being used for the review.
Environmental groups and Commissioner Dunn have repeatedly called for closed legal proceedings, while conservative groups and Commissioners Cavanaugh and Oden preferred the open format achieved through the public hearings.
The Commission recently concluded the open review process with Mobile Gas Company, which resulted in a rate reduction for Mobile Gas customers and a decrease in the company’s profits.
That result hurt the narrative of some environmental groups, not to mention Commissioner Dunn, who have attempted to hide behind consumer-friendly rhetoric.
Cameron Smith of the conservative think tank Alabama Policy Institute called for the environmental groups to come clean about their true intentions. Moments later that’s basically what happened as Michael Churchman of the Alabama Environmental Council gave his closing remarks.
Churchman openly proclaimed that AEC wants to be part of the decision making process. In other words, being able to participate in the public debate is not enough for them. They don’t just want to have their voice heard, they wan’t control over the final decision.
But isn’t that why Alabama voters elect their officials? The open review process keeps the decision in the hands of the elected officials who were voted into office by the people of Alabama. The closed legal proceedings being advocated for by Commissioner Dunn would suddenly put lawyers and advocacy groups in a position to be decision makers.
Other members of the Alabama media have called this debate a “side show.” Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban disagrees. No, Coach Saban didn’t comment on what’s going on at the PSC. However, Saban is famous for his focus on “the process.” Even this week at SEC media days, Saban wasn’t talking about a three-peat, he was talking about his focus on the process Alabama will use as they prepare to compete. The correct process yields the correct results.
The process the PSC used on Mobile Gas resulted in rates being dropped for consumers and Mobile Gas remaining a strong utility able to adequately serve their customers. Win-win.
The same process is being used to review Alabama Power. We’ve watched it closely over the last couple of months. Everyone has had a chance to speak in public. All the information was presented in the light of day. As the Commission proved after the Mobile Gas hearings, if action needs to be taken, it will be done.
With that in mind, it is hard to see how anyone could have a legitimate issue with how this has all played out. As a matter of fact, Commissioner Oden stated in his concluding remarks that this process could end up being a model for other states around the country based on its efficiency and openness and the extent to which info is exchanged publicly.
PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh said the commission staff will now begin coming up with a proposal and a decision will likely come some time in August.
None of the activists from either side of the political spectrum were elected. They are given a voice as citizens and are allowed to participate in the open public meetings. But the freely elected representatives of the people should control the decision. We’ll find out next month what their decision is.
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