Alabama Getaway: State rejects over $540,000 in federal efficiency funding because of utility and commission

Guest Blog | October 15, 2012 | Energy Efficiency, Utilities

This blog was written by Jimmy Green and Natalie Mims

Alabama getaway, getaway.
Alabama getaway, getaway.
Only way to please me
Turn around and leave
and walk away.

And that’s just what Alabama did. They turned around and walked away from over $540,000 in Federal money earmarked for energy efficiency in the state. After all, being ranked 40th in the nation in energy efficiency and having the third highest bills in the country is good enough, right?

Earlier this year the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) identified and applied for a grant from the Department of Energy (DOE)’s State Energy Program (SEP). Alabama was eligible for the grant because of its below average performance in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy‘s State Energy Efficiency Scorecard in 2009. In this year’s scorecard, ACEEE ranked Alabama 40th.

The purpose of the DOE grant was to “assist states in generating the necessary policy and program frameworks to support investment in cost-effective energy efficiency and establish or increase a statewide energy savings goal by calendar year 2015.” Additionally, DOE encourages state energy offices to establish a 1% annual energy savings goal.

ADECA was successful with its grant application, and they were awarded a grant of $541,089! No matching funds were required, so the state government didn’t even have to come up with any money. The funds were to be awarded in two phases. Phase I called for the development of an action plan to begin a collaborative stakeholder process to set an annual target. Once Phase I was finalized, Phase II required the development of an implementation plan to reach the savings target.

In ADECA’s application, they submitted plans to start a stakeholder process, and establish an implementation plan for the energy efficiency goals, similar to what Mississippi recently did with a similar Department of Energy grant. According to ADECA, “When the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs submitted the proposal for this grant, it was with the full expectation that the major stakeholders in the state would be willing to participate in the stakeholder process to develop policies that would allow Alabama to achieve the 1% annual energy savings goal.”

Then, a few weeks ago, on the brink of ADECA accepting the award, things changed. According to ADECA, “one of the largest utilities in the state and the Alabama Public Service Commission” were hesitant or unwilling to participate in the process.

As there are not too many utilities in Alabama, it isn’t hard to deduce which utility was unwilling  – Alabama Power. About that same time, Alabama Power stated their position on energy efficiency: “Alabama Power does not support arbitrary energy reduction targets. Energy efficiency is not using less kilowatt-hours, but the reduction of customers’ total energy cost. Alabama Power works with customers to assist them in becoming as efficient as possible.

Putting aside that Alabama Power is creating a new definition of energy efficiency, the utility’s actions still don’t align with their words. Alabama Power customers have the third highest electricity bills in the United States. It seems  the assistance that Alabama Power is offering their customers may be insufficient. Perhaps they should consider a new form of assistance – like working in a stakeholder process to identify what the gaps in their energy efficiency offerings are and put real action towards saving customers money on their energy bills.

Alabama Power does not provide any public information about their energy efficiency program plans or measurement and verification reports, and very little about savings through Energy Information Administration filings. From my perspective, this means that Alabama Power is not interested in energy efficiency, or in helping their customers lower their energy bills.Disappointingly, Alabama Power and the Public Service Commission won’t be helping their consumers out with any way to getaway from their high energy bills this year.

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