You can’t stop sunshine.
Last week, al.com reported that Alabama Power has asked the state’s Public Service Commission to refuse a challenge to its fees on customers who produce some of their own electricity through solar power, and that the company is also seeking to raise those fees by about 8%, from $5.00 to $5.42 per kilowatt hour. While the principle of the matter is important, the company says that the fees only affect 44 customers.
Solar power isn’t the norm in the Deep South, but the reality on the ground varies from state to state. According to 2018 rankings published by the website Solar Power Rocks, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are at the bottom, receiving an F in most of the categories assessed. Arkansas also ranks low, though 37th-ranked Georgia does a little better, with a sprinkling of decent grades. South Carolina ranks highest in the region, at 25th, with an overall C.
However, that trend may be changing. A March 2018 news story from CNBC about the Solar Energy Industries Associations annual report shared this:
Along with Florida and South Carolina, this trend is playing out in states such as Minnesota, Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi — all of which ranked in the top 20 for new solar capacity installations in 2017.
Which brings me to yesterday, when the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority and the Utilities Board of Tuskegee held a ribbon-cutting for the one of eleven sites in its Solar Research Project. The quarter-acre site in rural Macon County, at the intersection of Highways 81 and 199, has 160 panels that will produce about 50 kilowatts of electricity. AMEA’s president Fred Clark explained during the ceremony that the electricity generated will constitute a small portion of the total produced – from sources that include coal, hydroelectric, and nuclear – but this move toward another source of renewable energy constitutes progress. According to the project’s Frequently Asked Questions:
A solar project is about as safe as a facility can be. There are no air emissions from the facility. There are no chemicals. No trucks will be coming and going on a daily basis once construction is complete. The power will leave the solar project on lines just like the power lines in your neighborhood.
That’s one of major upsides to renewable energy.
Other solar-energy sites will be spread out around the state – Alexander City, Dothan, Fairhope, Lafayette, Luverne, and Sylacauga – the Opelika site had its ribbon-cutting right before the Tuskegee site.
Also on Wednesday, Alabama’s governor Kay Ivey announced that LG will soon add a $28 million solar panel factory to its existing operation in Huntsville.
It seems that, at least for the moment, you can’t stop sunshine. In addition to the AMEA sites, Alabama Power itself partnered with Walmart to open their own solar-power operation in Chambers County in March. That new project has nearly 350,000 panels spread out over more than 1,000 acres, and it is expected to produce 70 – 80 megawatts of electricity— for Walmart, a multi-billion dollar corporation headquartered in another state.
Alabama needs research into alternative forms of energy, in part because we pay the second highest electric-power rates in the nation, according to the website WalletHub. Alabama is one of the poorest states in the nation, is one of only three states that levies full sales tax on groceries, and we pay some of the highest rates for another basic household necessity: electricity. While the installation of solar panels isn’t a quick fix – Fred Clark explained that it will take thirty years for AMEA to recoup its investment – these sites are good moves in the right direction.
Shortly after this post published, This is Alabama ran a story on July 2 about the Southeast’s first “smart neighborhood,” which includes three acres of solar panels. The development is located in Hoover, just outside of Birmingham.