Throughout much of its service territory in the South, Southern Company has been objecting to participation by business representatives and clean energy advocates in consequential regulatory proceedings such as integrated resource plans and certificates of public need required for utilities to build new power plants. 

Alabama Power, a Southern Co. subsidiary, successfully stopped the Southern Renewable Energy Association from intervening in a proceeding to determine whether the company would gain regulatory approval to spend over $1 billion to build and buy new gas-burning power plants. Mississippi Power, another Southern Co. subsidiary, followed suit and filed motions objecting to the intervention of every party other than the Mississippi Attorney General in its first-ever integrated resource plan (IRP), a process through which regulators approve the utility’s long-term planning or recommend changes to it.

Formal intervention in public utility commissions allows organizations or businesses to submit testimony and evidence, and to ask questions of the utility. 

Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning boasted to investors on the company’s 2019 fourth quarter earnings call that its efforts to reduce its carbon emissions “will be a multi-decade transformation for our industry, and we look forward to engaging with our many stakeholders.” Southern had also previously told investors that IRPs were a “key component” to decarbonization; but at the state level, the company is blocking public participation by stakeholders in those very IRPs, and other proceedings that will be key to Southern’s decarbonization. 

Entergy joined Southern Company in Mississippi, where it objected to every intervenor in its IRP docket, except the Mississippi Attorney General and Sierra Club.

Alabama Power Prevents Public Participant Allowed by Georgia Power

The Southern Renewable Energy Association (SREA) filed a September 2019 motion to intervene in Alabama Power’s petition with the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) to build or buy more than $1 billion in new gas plants. In the petition, Alabama Power requested approval to build a small amount of renewables and up to 200 MW of undetermined energy efficiency programming. The petition also contained Alabama Power’s heavily redacted IRP.

Alabama Power objected to SREA’s intervention, stating that the business association’s interest in the proceeding was “general” and that SREA failed to identify a specific member that was a customer of Alabama Power. The company later responded that having an Alabama Power customer as a member was not the only method required to show standing. 

The Alabama PSC Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled against SREA in November 2019, and denied the group entry into the docket. SREA filed a petition for reconsideration pointing out that other parties, namely the American Senior Alliance, Energy Fairness (formerly the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy), and Manufacture Alabama were allowed to intervene without disclosing any of its members that were customers of Alabama Power. Energy Fairness has funding connections to Alabama Power and Southern Company, and advocates on behalf of utilities. The ALJ ruled against SREA’s petition for reconsideration on February 3, 2020. 

SREA intervened at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), where Alabama Power’s planned gas expansion requires federal approval, since it wants to purchase a merchant gas plant near Montgomery. FERC found Alabama Power’s filing deficient once on October 23, 2019, and again on February 7, 2020, underscoring the potential that intervenors could provide meaningful evidence at the state level.

SREA actively participated in Georgia Power’s 2019 IRP, submitting two sets of testimony for the record. Georgia Power, which is owned by Alabama Power’s parent company, Southern Company, did not oppose SREA’s intervention in Georgia.

Mississippi Power Objects to Almost All Intervenors, Calls Sierra Club “Out of State Special Interest” Group

Southern Company’s objections did not stop in Alabama. Mississippi Power, in its first ever IRP docket, objected to every intervention request submitted, except the Mississippi Attorney General’s. Mississippi Power singled out the Sierra Club as an “out-of-state special interest” group, despite the Sierra Club having a Mississippi Chapter that long opposed Mississippi Power’s failed Kemper coal gasification plant. Mississippi Power claimed that the Sierra Club, and other intervenors like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, did not care about the best interests of Mississippi Power customers.

Mississippi Power’s, however, put ratepayers on the hook for billions in cost overruns and delays from its Kemper plant until Sierra Club and other parties secured a settlement, forcing Southern Company shareholders to pick up $6.4 billion of the estimated $7.5 billion tab for the company’s risky behavior. Tate Reeves, now Governor of Mississippi, helped pass legislation allowing Mississippi Power to collect an additional $1 billion from customers. Reeves received campaign contributions from Mississippi Power’s PAC shortly after the vote.

Entergy Joins Southern in Blocking Public Participation

Entergy followed Southern Company’s lead and filed motions to block the intervention of SREA, the Advanced Energy Management Alliance (AEMA), Flora Real Estate and Development (FRED), the Bigger Pie Forum, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in its Mississippi IRP docket. Entergy did not object to Sierra Club’s intervention or the Mississippi Attorney General’s. 

FRED shot back at Entergy, saying the company objected to its intervention because consumer-friendly information would be a threat to Entergy’s business model and to its returns for Wall Street. FRED pointed to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Entergy’s anti-competitive behavior as more evidence for the need for intervenors in regulatory proceedings. FRED also stated that Entergy should be welcoming of public participation and that its objections to almost all intervenors suggests that the company may be trying to hide material information about its plans for the future.

Entergy has stated that its IRP “does not drive a specific outcome or produce specific utility investment decisions” and that it “provides transparency”.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission is expected to rule on the intervention requests at its next monthly meeting on Tuesday March 3, 2020.

Header image source: YouTube

Posted by David Pomerantz

David Pomerantz is the Executive Director of the Energy and Policy Institute.