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Environmentalists challenge Alabama Power’s solar fees

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An environmental group claims Alabama Power Co. is wrongly charging fees that increase costs for customers who install solar panels.

The Southern Environmental Law Center and others filed a complaint Thursday with the Alabama Public Service Commission challenging surcharges the utility imposes on homes, businesses and schools.

The group says Alabama Power’s fees for customers with solar arrays amount to about $300 annually, cutting into savings they’d otherwise receive from using solar. It says the fees add about $9,000 in cost over the lifetime of an average solar system.

Critics say the charges are depressing Alabama’s solar-power industry, which trails much of the nation. The petition asks the commission to bar Alabama Power from collecting the additional charge.

Alabama Power says it was reviewing the complaint and declined further comment Friday.

The utility-regulating Public Service Commission let the charges take effect about five years ago. Most people with rooftop solar arrays also purchase power from utilities, and the fee is charged in addition to customers’ normal bill for electricity.

The Southern Environmental Law Center and a Birmingham-based law firm, Ragsdale LLC, filed the complaint on behalf of two people and Gasp Inc., which advocates energy production that reduces air pollution.

Gasp executive director Michael Hansen, in a statement, said neighboring states are experiencing business and job growth linked to the solar energy industry that laregely is bypassing Alabama because of the utility’s policies.

“If solar customers were treated fairly, Alabama would have the opportunity to reap these same benefits,” he said.

Alabama Power is a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Southern Co. Utility regulators in neighboring Georgia rejected a similar solar surcharge proposed there by Georgia Power Co., also a Southern Co. subsidiary, in 2013.

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