Alabama Faces Roadblocks to Energy Innovation

Daniel Tait

In Alabama, politics and policy are holding back solar energy and energy efficiency, according to Daniel Tait, technical director at Energy Alabama. In this interview, he describes the roadblocks his state is facing.

CEFF: How would you describe the solar-energy market's current successes and challenges in Alabama?

Tait: Alabama's solar market is meager and lethargic due almost exclusively to poor state and utility policy.

What little success we have had in Alabama has come from the federal government and large corporations such as Walmart, Google and Facebook effectively forcing the utilities' hand.

Unfortunately, those gains have not been felt in the residential or commercial rooftop markets.

With all that said, we have had some success in Alabama because the simple economics for certain types of customers such as large commercial users is too great to ignore.

Our biggest challenge in the state comes from regressive policy.

Alabama Power and – to a much lesser extent – Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) run the state of Alabama politically.

Nothing changes the fact that this isn't in the business interest of Alabama Power. Consequently, Alabama Power thwarts any self-generation, which is viewed as a business threat. 

CEFF: What is your perspective on the energy efficiency market's successes and challenges at this time in Alabama?

Tait: Alabama is dead last in energy efficiency. North Alabama, which is under TVA's jurisdiction, has had some modest success with energy efficiency.

For the last few years, TVA has invested heavily in energy efficiency for all sectors – residential, commercial and industrial.

And, on the whole, they've done pretty well at driving electric savings.

Unfortunately, TVA is closing down almost all of its energy efficiency programs,  claiming that it has saved too much energy and needs to sell more because of flat demand. 

Alabama Power, on the other hand, has absolutely no energy-efficiency programs to speak of and of course has no savings to its name.

In ranking after ranking, Alabama Power is last by far.

Their staff will never act until the Alabama Public Service Commission requires them to. 

CEFF: What stakeholder decisions would catalyze forward movement in these two markets in Alabama?

Tait: In Alabama, this is a very simple answer. We need better policy. And frankly, it almost isn't as much about passing good policy as it is about removing the bad policy on the books.

Removing the $5/kW/month solar tax, making the solar buyback fair, and requiring utilities to use energy efficiency and demand side management as a generation resource would go a long way toward just getting out of the way and letting the market work.

Note: Emma McDonald contributed research to this article.

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