Eco Groups File Claim That Alabama Power Charges Unjust Fees On Solar Power
Conservation groups have filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, claiming that Alabama Power has imposed unjust charges on customers using solar power.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, along with Birmingham law firm Ragsdale, LLC, filed the petition this month on behalf of environmental advocacy group GASP and four Alabama Power customers with solar installations. The petition calls on FERC to compel the Alabama Public Service Commission to enforce federal laws protecting solar customers from unfair treatment by their utility.
Since 2013, Alabama Power has placed a monthly fee on customers including businesses and schools attempting to use solar power to reduce their bills. The charge varies based on the size of the solar panel system being used for example, a five-kilowatt solar array average for a home system brings charges of $27.05 per month, or $324 per year.
Keith Johnston, Director of the SELCs Alabama Office, says the charge discourages people from investing in solar energy. People dont even realize that theyre subject to until theyre trying to put solar on their roofs to save energy and save money. Then they realize that, when they pencil it out and the solar installer looks at it, it may take them decades for their investment to pay off. So its a disincentive for people to actually use these renewable energy sources or to try and save energy.
The PSC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
How Is The Cost Of Solar Panels For Homes In Alabama Offset By Solar Tax Credits
The cost of installation of renewable energy systems in Alabama is supported by the federal solar investment tax credit.
The amount of this tax credit is currently 26% of the value of the solar system and it is claimed on your taxes in the year after installation.
Many people mistakenly refer to this tax credit as the Alabama solar tax credit but it is actually a federal tax credit.
Alabama itself does not offer a solar tax credit.
Solar panel cost calculator
West Virginia Off Grid Laws
Off-grid electric is legal in West Virginia. Many rural areas do not have building codes and do not require you to be connected to the electric grid.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in West Virginia. You can see the States recommendations here.
NSF-approved composting toilets are legal in West Virginia, but only when used in conjunction with an approved gray water treatment system, such as a septic tank. You can find the laws about off-grid toilets here.
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Table 1 Estimated Cost Comparison Of Utility
*Assumes no increase in utility rates over the 10 year period, zero inflation.**Typically, utility companies will charge whichever is higher – actual usage or base meter fee.***This table is for cost evaluation explanatory purposes only and does not represent any specific utility company cost structure or solar system. Please check with your utility or solar provider for specific costs. ****Assuming better batteries with 10-year life and inverters with standard 10-year warranty.
|Direct Usage Solar Power – 2.5kW + 5kWh of Battery***|
Other Regulations Which Make Off
In addition to the laws above, here are some other laws against off-grid living.
Most states allow for rainwater harvesting. However, there are usually a lot stricter rules when it comes to using ground water, such as from streams or rivers going through your property. Again, these rules are usually made with the public good in mind. Would you really want your upstream neighbor to be allowed to divert all the stream water for his cattle, leaving you with nothing?
In most places, your water usage bill and sewage bill are combined. Of the two, sewage is much more expensive. However, sewage isnt metered like water is. So the utility company will set sewage bills based on water usage.
If you are getting all your water from rainwater catchment but still using the city sewage, you are basically getting those sewage services for free.
Remember the case of Ms. Speronis in Florida which got a lot of attention? People blew this story out of proportion, citing it as an example of the government punishing people who wanted to live off-grid. The case is complicated, but the real reason she was fined was not for collecting rainwater but for using the sewage without paying for it.
As one official said, The issue with that is, theyre getting their sewage treated for free because sewage rates are based on water usage.
Off-Grid Toilet Laws
Solar Rules and Fees
Selling Homemade Products
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Sewage And Waste Removal
Alabama has relatively strict rules when it comes to sewage disposal. If your property is not located near a municipal sewer line, you will most likely need to install a septic tank.
It is worth noting that many areas in Alabama, especially in the Black Belt, have poor soil for septic.
You may be required to have a special septic system designed by an engineer, which can be very costly. For this reason, the State encourages people to investigate which sewage treatment options are available before purchasing land.
Despite the strict sewage laws in Alabama, many people still use faulty septic systems, cesspools, outhouses or directly dump sewage onto the land. This has created a sanitation nightmare in some areas. Dont be surprised if you find raw sewage on lawns or in streams.
Minnesota Off Grid Laws
Off-grid electricity is legal in Minnesota. However, the state doesnt have the most friendly policies for grid-tied solar utility companies charge users with grid-tied solar a fee just for staying connected to the grid.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Minnesota.
Composting toilets and outhouses are legal in Minnesota. There are regulations to follow but they are generally more relaxed than in other states. Read more here.
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New Hampshire Off Grid Laws
Off-grid electric is legal in New Hampshire. The state also offers good incentives for installing solar and net metering for grid-tied solar.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in New Hampshire and even encouraged by the state.
Composting toilets and pit privies are legal in New Hampshire. However, if the site is located near a public sewer, the health officer may order the construction of a toilet connected to the sewer or require a septic tank installation. There are exceptions for some seasonal properties. See the law here.
In Alabama You Could Pay The Utility $9000 For Having Solar On Your Roof
What its like in one of the countrys worst solar markets.
Staff writer Greentech Media
Regressive solar policies have stopped solar activity in Alabama.
As residential solar markets go, Alabama is about as small as you can get.
Among the 43 states plus Washington, D.C. that GTM Research tracks individually, it ranks 42. It has just 1 megawatt of residential systems installed. According to GTM Research solar analyst Austin Perea, its hardly a blip on the radar.
In the realm of whats happening in residential solar, Id say whats happening in Alabama may be the least important thing, said Perea.
How did the state win that distinction? Through a mix of regressive policies.
Alabama doesn’t have net metering, but it does have a fixed fee on any residential installations in Alabama Powers service area, which covers the southern two-thirds of the state.
Id say its particularly regressive that they dont have net metering. Its middle-of-the-road regressive with respect to the fixed charges, said Perea. The more regressive element of their approach is not having a mechanism by which you can export energy back to the grid and still get the full retail rate. In most markets that is the primary revenue by which you can make solar economic.
The markets that see growth in residential solar are the ones that have enabling policy, the ones that allow folks to have some economic benefit, he added.
Not so in Alabama.
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Ferc Decision Clears Way For Action Against Alabama Powers Unjust Solar Charges
A decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission opens the door for our case against Alabama Powers punitive monthly solar fee to go to federal court.
The federal agency declined to hear a petition to initiate an enforcement action against the Alabama Public Service Commission for allowing Alabama Power to impose unjust charges against its customers with rooftop or on-site solar.
The petition was filed by SELC and Ragsdale, LLC on behalf of Birmingham-based nonprofit GASP and four Alabama Power customers who installed solar on their properties. Alabama Power has been charging them an extra fee, to supply electricity if solar panels dont produce enough.
Massachusetts Off Grid Laws
It is unclear whether residential homes can legally disconnect from the electric grid in Massachusetts. Regardless of the law, there are many people living with off-grid solar in Massachusetts. There are also loopholes and permits for camping on your own land.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Massachusetts and even encouraged by the state. Some counties may require you to be hooked up to the municipal water though.
Composting toilets are legal in Massachusetts, though there are many regulations. The composted waste must be disposed of by burial or by a licensed seepage hauler. Any liquid byproducts must be discharged into a septic tank and leaching system or removed by a licensed septic hauler.
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Alabama State Energy Rebates
Solar power rebates are incentives federal or state governments offer to reduce the cost of going solar. Alabama offers state solar rebates through the Tennessee Valley Authority — $1000 rebate upon installation to offset initial costs. You can get a lump sum payment or your installer will take the amount off the final installed price. Rebates require paperwork to be filed. Many times installers will handle the paperwork. Talk with an expert solar installer to see how to qualify. And don’t forget, the Federal rebate for installed solar systems is 30%.
Connecticut Off Grid Laws
Connecticut is one of the few states which promotes off-grid solar. They have legislation that supports microgrids and homes with off-grid solar could qualify as a microgrid. However, the laws are still not very clear about how private individuals need to be classified to be allowed to have a microgrid.
Rainwater harvesting in Connecticut is allowed or not regulated under state law. It also seems to be legal to disconnect from the water utility completely.
Composting toilets are legal in Connecticut. However, property owners must submit an application and the toilet must be approved by the local director of health. Waste from the composting toilet must be buried or disposed of in another approved method.
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Why Solar Panel Cost Should Not Be Your Only Consideration When Buying Solar Panels For Your Home
The most important difference between buying solar panels and any other purchase is that solar panels last 25-30 years. This is a long, long time and you will need customer service over all that time. The reviews below of the two largest corporate solar installation companies indicate larger corporate solar companies are not delivering this support to their customers.
We recommend you find a small or mid-size, local, family-owned solar company. These companies tend to care more about you and your specific job. You don’t want to be on hold to a corporation’s call center for the next 25 years!
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Alabama Sales Tax Exemption For Energy
Alabama does not offer sales tax exemptions. A sales tax exemption means that homeowners and businesses would not have to pay any state sales tax on their solar panel system. Combine the falling costs of solar equipment and installation, the TVA incentive and the 30% Federal tax rebate and you have good reasons to go solar in Alabama!
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Arizona Off Grid Laws
Arizona is one of the worst states for off-grid solar. The laws are written in a way that makes it illegal for a home not to be connected to the electric grid. On top of that, Arizona charges a solar tax to people with grid-connected solar.
Rainwater harvesting in Arizona is legal.
Feds: Alabama Solar Fee May Violate Federal Law
Rooftop solar panels in Alabama
Federal energy regulators said this week that the Alabama Public Service Commission may be violating federal energy law by allowing Alabama Power to charge a fee to customers with solar panels, likely paving the way for a court battle over whether the fee can remain in place.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Glick and FERC Commissioner Allison Clements issued a statement this week that challengers to the fee had presented a strong case that the fee was discriminatory and violated a law called the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act .
FERC — which regulates interstate electricity transmission, hydroelectric dams and other utility operations at the federal level — chose not to begin an enforcement action against Alabamas PSC for approving and upholding the fee, but Glick and Clements issued a statement saying the PSC and Alabama Power had not demonstrated that the fee met the letter or spirit of the law, which was written to encourage the development of small power production through solar or other means.
We concur to express our concern that the Alabama Public Service Commission may be violating the Commissions PURPA regulations, undermining the statutes purpose of encouraging Qualifying Facilities, the commissioners said.
Environmental groups and others who first challenged the fee at the state level, say the FERC action clears the way for them to take their case to federal court.
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Know Your Right To Solar
At least twenty four states now have solar access rights including California, Utah, Texas, Arizona and Florida. These laws limit homeowner associations from banning solar panels and they override any homeowners association contract that might try to restrict you from having solar panels on your roof.
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It is best to go to your meeting with copies of the law for your state so that your HOA is aware that you do have the law on your side.
And in the worst case scenario, if your HOA denies your request to have solar panels installed anyway, you can sue and let the courts decide.
Delaware Off Grid Laws
Off-grid electric in Delaware is legal and is even encouraged in some areas. Many municipalities offer incentives for both grid-tied and off-grid solar systems, including rebates up to $15,000 for residential systems.
Rainwater collection in Delaware is legal and even encouraged by the state.
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Missouri Off Grid Laws
Missouri is one of the friendliest states for off-grid living. In addition to the climate which makes it easier to live off the land, the state has a lot of rural land which isnt subject to zoning laws and doesnt require building permits except for septic. There are also many favorable laws towards homesteading.
Off-grid electric is legal in Missouri and there are already off-grid communities established in the state. There are many Amish in the state as well.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Missouri.
Currently, Missouri Department of Health laws mention composting toilets but do not have any specific laws or regulations regarding the. Thus, composting toilets still exist in a legal gray area in Missouri.
The law does specifically mention pit privies though. The law states, A privy will be allowed only under limited conditions and will not be recognized as a method of sewage disposal for a continuously occupied dwelling, business or other structure. A privy will only be considered for remote areas not served by a piped water source. Thus, you will likely need to install a septic system if you want to live off-grid in Missouri. See the law here.
Calculating The Cost Of Solar Panels For Your Specific Home In Al
Installation costs for solar will vary with your location and the size of your homes electricity bill. To be meaningful solar cost information needs to be tailored to the individual situation. If you enter your details into the solar calculator below you will get a solar cost and savings estimate and find out how much solar panels will cost for your home based on current offers from your local solar installation companies.
Who are the best solar panel installation companies in Alabama that offer the best deals on quality solar systems?
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Green Groups Sue Alabama Regulators For Penalizing Private Solar Power Adoption
Image: Tiia Monto via Wikimedia Commons
Environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit against Alabama state regulators, alleging that the states utilities are using fees to discourage the private adoption of solar power. The case was filed by The Southern Environmental Law Center and Ragsdale LLC on Monday on the Alabama Public Service Commission. Plaintiffs include four Alabama Power customers with solar panels on their properties and the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution . Lawyers from the SELC say that these fees hold Alabamas energy market back and that private citizens shouldnt have to pay extra to go green.
Why This Matters: 1.5 million people rely on Alabama Power to keep the lights on, but as weve seen in past months, power grids across the country need an update. For many, diversification of power sources must be a crucial part of infrastructural updates. Despite making some significant investments in nuclear and hydroelectric power, Alabamas energy profile has been dominated by coal and natural gas for decades. Alabama produces more energy than it uses, exporting much of it to other states.
Still, experts say that Alabama must catch up with other Southern states or risk losing its grip on the energy market. That could spell trouble for the states economy, and discouraging the private adoption of renewable energy only compounds that risk.