Lawsuit filed against Alabama regulators over solar fees that ‘violate federal law’

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The suit relates to charges on rooftop and on-site solar. Image: UNEF/Twitter.

Residents and conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) for approving utility company Alabama Power’s charges on customers with rooftop or on-site solar.

The case is being filed by the Southern Environmental Law Centre (SELC) and law firm Ragsdale LLC on behalf of environmental non-profit GASP and four Alabama Power customers who invested in solar installations on their properties.

Since 2013, Alabama Power has set one of the highest fees on solar customers of any regulated US utility, which sees monthly fees added to other charges, reducing customers’ savings and making solar investment less financially appealing, according to SELC.  

SELC initially challenged Alabama Power’s charges in April 2018 but in 2020 the PSC granted a motion to dismiss the groups’ complaint and approved the price increase from US$5/kW to US$5.41/kW.  

The suit also follows the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) decision not to take enforcement action against the PSC, allowing the groups to go to federal court, which was “consistent with its customary practice in response to such enforcement petitions,” according to SELC.

But, in a joint statement, FERC chairman Richard Glick and commissioner Allison Clements, said the PSC may be “violating the Commission’s PURPA regulations” by discouraging rooftop and on-site solar in Alabama.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978 was designed to promote greater renewable energy use and electricity conversation.

“Petitioners have presented a strong case that the Alabama Commission [PSC] failed to adhere to regulations,” said the statement.

“A utility monopoly should not be able to keep solar energy out of reach for Alabamians who could truly benefit from it,” said GASP executive director, Michael Hansen.

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