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Environmentalists return to Alabama with expensive solar power push

Installing solar panels on a house. (Photo: Edmund Tse/flickr)
Installing solar panels on a house. (Photo: Edmund Tse/flickr)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — After a period of relative quiet, Alabama’s energy wars could be gearing up for another round of battles, as one well-funded environmental group launches its latest PR campaign.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has announced its “Stories of Solar” video series, which targets lawmakers with messages about the supposed benefits of using solar power over more traditional energy sources, like coal and natural gas.

The first video in the series features Chuck Jay, a solar panel installer from Northport, Alabama, who previously worked as a coal miner.

“Right now Alabama is ranked 44th in the country in terms of solar,” said the SELC’s Christina Andreen. “The latest figure on solar jobs in the state is 287 jobs. Solar power… is abundant in the South and so we should be harnessing the sun to provide us with electricity.”

Longtime political observers in Alabama will likely remember the SELC’s participation in a coordinated push by numerous environmental groups aimed at the Yellowhammer State’s coal industry.

Financial disclosures released in 2013 by the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation revealed that millions of dollars had been funneled to local Alabama environmental groups with the stated purpose of shutting down coal-fired power plants. $1.8 million was sent to the SELC, including $60,000 earmarked “to accelerate retirement of coal-fired power plants in the Southeast.”

In 2014, email records obtained through open records requests revealed that government employees shared privileged information with the SELC in an attempt to aid their efforts to halt progress on The Northern Beltline, claiming the 52-mile highway in Jefferson County will hurt wildlife in the area. The SELC filed suit on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper Inc. seeking to block construction. A judge ultimately ruled against them, calling their requests “useless and redundant” and concluding that they were not seeking a compromise solution to the project, but were instead working to squash the development all together.

After the 2014 election cycle produced little positive results for the SELC and their allies, the groups were relatively quiet until announcing their latest campaign this week.

The Alabama Free Market Alliance (AFMA), a conservative advocacy group and frequent critic of the SELC’s efforts, quickly responded to the campaign.

“Subsidies for solar hurt taxpayers and kill jobs,” the group tweeted. “Note to legislators: Don’t fall for this lib agenda.”

AFMA previously named SELC to their “Watch List” of the most active liberal advocacy organizations in Alabama, citing their penchant for using the court system to advance their agenda.

The SELC’s website says that “For over 25 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has leveraged the power of the law to protect the environment of the Southeast.” As that suggests, lawsuits are this radical environmental group’s weapon of choice. The support they receive from liberal donors around the country allows them to spend millions of dollars trying to implement their economy-crushing environmental agenda.

Google’s “Solar Energy Savings Estimator” reveals solar energy’s biggest challenge in gaining momentum around the country, especially in Alabama: basic economics.

According to the estimator, placing solar panels on Yellowhammer News headquarters, for instance, would cost $38,000 up front and produce $0 in savings over a 20-year period.

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