Environmental organizations are decrying a ruling last week by the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) green-lighting a plan by Alabama Power to increase its energy capacity by permitting substantial new investment in fossil fuel technology.
After hearing testimony from both sides and gathering staff recommendations, the three-member PSC voted unanimously to allow Alabama Power to construct a new combined cycle natural gas generator at Barry Steam Plant in North Mobile County, while also allowing it to acquire an existing generating station in Autauga County and purchase power from an existing plant in Mobile County.
Alabama Power spokesperson Michael Sznajderman said the new unit — Barry Unit 8 — will be rated at 743 megawatts with a projected online date of late 2023. Plant Barry currently has six operational units that produce a total of 2,370 megawatts.
According to testimony from March, the request for more capacity is a result of Alabama Power’s 2019 integrated resource plan that, “driven by the need for additional winter reserve capacity,” identified an approximately 2,400 megawatt shortfall by 2023. The plan will cost upwards of $1.1 billion, according to the company.
In addition to Barry Unit 8, Alabama Power will purchase the existing 915-megawatt Central Alabama Generating Station from Tenaska and buy electricity from the 238-megawatt Hog Bayou Power Center in Mobile County, owned by LS Energy. The PSC also approved Alabama Power to purchase “200 megawatts of undetermined Demand Side Management and Distributed Energy Resources.”
At the hearings, representatives from sustainable energy nonprofit Energy Alabama testified Alabama Power’s forecasting techniques were flawed. After the PSC’s vote last week, it issued a statement noting the commission failed to approve “the most cost-effective and most environmentally beneficial options proposed by Alabama Power,” one for solar expansion and battery storage.
Energy Alabama noted the PSC’s decision “follows a significant decline in overall electricity demand due to the global pandemic and resulting economic recession.”
Christina Tidwell, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, wrote, “Alabama Power has substantially overstated its need for these gas plants given the glaring problems with its analysis. Its projected need is even less reliable now due to the pandemic and its economic impacts.”
In a brief filed after the hearings, Alabama Power argued the complaints were unfounded.
“The fact that the company has been able to serve its customers reliably to this point in time is of no consequence, as the purpose of the petition is to position the company to continue to do so going forward … Alabama Power holds a non-delegable obligation under the law to meet the needs of its customers, and that obligation includes maintaining an adequate level of reserves in connection with such service.”
In regards to claims the cost of the proposal would be passed along to consumers, Alabama Power claims the plan represents “the least-cost options” among all other viable proposals and Barry Unit 8 will “effectively pay for itself.”
“In addition, Barry Unit 8 will be located at the site of the company’s existing Plant Barry, where the company has reliably operated two combined cycle units for nearly 20 years and which affords the unit the enhanced benefit of existing infrastructure, as well as access to numerous gas supply options.”
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