As the summer temperatures heat up, rising power bills are sure to follow. More businesses and homeowners are opting for solar energy as a less expensive and more environmentally friendly alternative.
The Bankston family loves life on the lake in Tuscaloosa. Solar energy panels seemed like a good way to save money on their energy costs until Dr. Jim Bankston learned of the monthly fees from Alabama Power. “I wouldn’t have done it, this doesn’t make any financial sense,” explains Bankston.
His only recourse was to file a complaint with the Public Service Commission. He says the power company is taking advantage of customers, because they are a monopoly.
Environmental group GASP in Birmingham calls the fees a disincentive for homeowners to switch to solar. Executive Director, Michael Hansen says without public hearings there’s no way to know what constitutes a fair fee. The power company provides back-up service to the homes.
However, we’re told businesses don’t face similar fees and the payoff comes much quicker for going solar. SouthPoint Bank on Highway 280 has 200 solar panels. They’re expecting to save $10,000 a year. Computer models track what they use and produce to sell back to Alabama Power.
Efficient and environmentally friendly, since installing the panels, the bank says they’ve cut emissions equivalent to planting 700 trees.
On a larger scale, Summer Classics and Gabby’s solar panel system in Pelham is projected to cut electric bills by 41 percent, eventually saving $120,000 a year on power costs. The emissions they’ve reduced are equivalent to 1.4 million vehicles.
Birmingham’s Eagle Solar & Light is growing and adding local jobs. The company installed systems for both the bank and furniture facility. “Right now we’re targeting commercial businesses. They see the quickest return and the most savings,” says Richard Lewis Jr., Marketing & Advertising Director, Eagle Solar and Light, LLC.
Advocates say homeowners should see the same positive savings, and by opening up the solar market in Alabama jobs will follow. “We’re dragging behind the rest of the Southeast. Georgia has created over 4,000 jobs while Alabama has just over 400,” remarks GASP Executive Director Michael Hansen.
He says when Georgia Power, Alabama Power’s sister company, tried to tack on similar charges it was shot down. Hansen says the fees amount to $5 per kilowatt used per month. It adds an additional $300 on a homeowner’s power costs per year.
In filings with Alabama’s Public Service Commission, Alabama Power calls the fees just and reasonable saying the company is entitled under federal and state law to “collect charges for back-up power services.” The company contends the time for a rehearing and appeal has passed. The documents also say these fees “are due to be increased.”
Gasp’s Hansen calls the fees a tax on the sun and there’s nothing like it in the entire southeast. “From our perspective this is unjust and unreasonable.”
Alabama Power filings with the Public Service Commission:
GASP brochures on solar energy use:
Alabama Power has a program called Greener State, which it promotes as an affordable way for residential and commercial customers to support renewable energy. There is a monthly charge. The green energy comes from wind, solar or biomass. Click HERE to learn more.