The commission declined to accept an enforcement petition against state regulators that allowed Alabama Power to collect a solar fee and instead allow petitioners to take control of the battle in court.

June 4, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has declined to accept a petition to initiate enforcement action against the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC), which allows Alabama Power to impose fines on customers with rooftop or on-site solar panels.

While this may at first sound like inaction against these charges, the decision opens up the possibility for petitioners to pursue their case against the PSC in federal court. FERC’s decision not to enforce was awaited.

In support of the petitioners’ case, FERC Chairman Richard Glick and Commissioner Allison Clements expressed concern that the PSC could violate federal law by prohibiting solar panels on rooftops or customer sites in Alabama.

I participated @FERC Chairperson @RichGlickFERC Today to express our concern that the Alabama PSC is charging backup fees to QF solar customers who may violate PURPA requirements. Here is our full joint statement: https://t.co/XyX1EUoNKH

– Allison Clements (@ClementsFERC) June 2, 2021

In their joint statement, Commissioners Clements and Glick stated that “[p]The applicants have made a strong case that the Alabama Commission failed to comply with the rules set out in FERC Regulation No. 69 [FERC’s order establishing its PURPA regulations]that violate the requirements of the [federal law]. “

The reason for this is a monthly capacity fee of $ 5.41 / kW that solar customers have been paying since 2013. The petitioners behind the case are four owners of small PV systems – from 2 to 6 kW – and a local non-profit, the Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution (GASP). The petition was filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Ragsdale LLC on behalf of the PV owners and GASP.

The petitioners argue that Alabama Power’s solar fix fees are in violation of PURPA regulations. PURPA bans tariffs on the sale of electricity that discriminate against qualified entities and petitioners claim their systems are qualified.

In addition, the group claims that the Solarfix fees are based neither on a performance cost study nor on uniform system-wide costing principles, arguing that both are required under the PURPA. The petition adds that the fees are based on lost revenue due to decreased customer usage, which is not unique to the introduction of solar energy, which makes it discriminatory.

“We are pleased that Chairman Glick and Commissioner Clements recognize the apparent illegality of how Alabama Power, with the full support of the Alabama Public Service Commission, treats customers making private investments in rooftop or on-site solar,” said Keith Johnston, director of SELC Offices in Alabama. “We are now ready to take the next step by soliciting a federal district court so that Alabama Power customers can finally enjoy the benefits of solar power to the same extent as customers in other solar-rich states.”

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