Thursday, December 15, 2022

Religious fervor and rapid rate increases go hand in hand when the Public Service Commission meets to worship -- I mean regulate -- Alabama Power

Why was Alabama Power CEO Mark A. Crosswhite ousted -- sugar-coated as a retirement -- in late November.? Several factors probably were in play, as has reported in a recent series of eight posts. K.B. Forbes, publisher of Ban Balch and CEO of the CDLU public charity and advocacy group, reports that strict regulation was not one of those factors. In fact, Forbes states, members of the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) approach their regulatory role over the power company with a rubber stamp in their hands and an almost Biblical reverence in their hearts. John Archibald, of, provided valuable insight into that peculiar relationship -- which tends to produce poor results for consumers -- in a column earlier this week. Archibald's piece clearly resonated with Forbes, who writes:

Pulitzer-winning columnist John Archibald on Monday wrote a powerful column on how Alabama’s Public Service Commission worships Alabama Power (APCO). He described the situation:

It was Alabama Power’s third rate hike of the year, the second in as many months, and it passed without discussion or debate or even the sign of the cross. It took a press release from Alabama Power itself later that day to translate the events of that meeting, to acknowledge the rate increase, effective in January, would add about $6.81 per month for the typical residential customer. After rate increases in July and November, the average customer will pay about $22.81 more per month than at the start of this year. That’s $273.72 more a year.

The Public Service Commission has rubber stamped the Alabama Power rate increases with no debate, no thought whatsoever.

We will dive deeper into Forbes' thoughts in a moment, but first, we must give credit to the copy desk -- whose members tend to perform as the unheralded "offensive linemen" of the journalism world.  They have produced a headline for the ages: "Archibald: Oh Lord, tell us who the Alabama PSC worships most". If that doesn't make you want to read a column, nothing will. And Archibald does not disappoint as he examines the strange religiosity surrounding the PSC-APCO relationship. Writes Archibald:

Sometimes it’s hard to know who, or what, the Alabama Public Service Commission worships most.

I’m kidding. It’s not that hard. But they try real hard to throw us off.

Last week, for instance, the PSC started as always it does, with a prayer to Jesus, given by a friend of one of our elected officials. Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh “thought it would be a nice opportunity for us to highlight one of our newest staff members” by putting him behind the prayer mic. So the prayer was given by the PSC’s new acting director of the regulator’s Gas Pipeline and Safety Division. He was hard to hear, at least down here on earth, but by PSC standards it was pretty vanilla.

The prayer and pledge were done in three minutes flat, and we were on to the meeting. Amen and Amen. But we weren’t through with the public religious service.

Commissioners, barely visible behind Hallmark-worthy strands of garland draping the dais, opened up with important regulatory news. Except they didn’t. Commissioner Jeremy Oden asked for time, he said, to talk of a sermon he gave over the weekend about the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

“Christmas is a time in which we should enjoy our friends and should enjoy our family, and I think the old saying is ‘the reason for the season.’” he said. “And really and truly, you can’t have Christmas without the reason. And that’s the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.”“So thank y’all for that,” he concluded. “I just needed to do a little pastoral thing this morning.”

A "pastoral thing"? What was this meeting about again? I think I've forgotten, but Archibald's description of the PSC's act is so compelling that I want to buy tickets for the next get-together. And, Archibald assures us, this is not new stuff; it's standard fare for the PSC:

You’d think, if you just watched this PSC from time to time, and heard the prayers uttered there in the past, that it worships the Christian God – albeit a very narrow version of that God.

The PSC only spent about four minutes talking to God and the birth of his son. It wasn’t long. But it spent no time at all talking about the most significant regulatory duty that came before it that day: Alabama Power’s latest rate hike.

Let's throw it back to K.B. Forbes in the studio:

And who are the commissioners? Three of them, all elected -- Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Chip Beeker, and Jeremy Oden.

All three commissioner have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in election support in a web of PACs and independent committees affiliated with or allies of Alabama Power.

Sources claim that Alabama Power was allegedly involved in extensive corruption utilizing a web of shady operatives, obscure consulting firms, and a network of pay-through entities to allegedly compromise elected officials.

Just like the corrupt Alliance for Jobs and the Economy (AJE), the entity that funneled $360,000 in bribes to convicted felon and ex-State Representative Oliver Robinson, how many other front groups and entities were used to compromise elected officials on behalf of Alabama Power?

The financial documents we received anonymously show that several unknown or obscure entities in Birmingham, Montgomery and Auburn were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Alabama Power through Matrix.

Forbes promptly cuts to the chase, with a number of spot-on questions:

For what purpose? To what end?

Were they pay-throughs? Were they entities set up to help launder money to elected officials?

Were they part of an organized criminal effort to attack perceived enemies and innocent families and their children? Or were they set up to buy a politician or three?

 The rate increases could come in handy under at least one scenario, Forbes writes:

The bottom line is with the three rate increases, Alabama Power will generate $400 million in additional revenue.

These rate increases were key to help pay down the billion-dollar cost-overruns of the boondoggle Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Georgia.

Crosswhite, we are told, allegedly demanded these rate increases so he could be the “knight in shining armor” that saved Southern Company financially and would be easily promoted to CEO and Chairman of Southern Company.

Instead, Crosswhite is leaving like “a donkey with his tail between his legs.”

 At least the power-company folks seem to appreciate a little irony with their drama:

The irony is the Vogtle Power plant is named after former Alabama Power and Southern Company Chairman Alvin Vogtle. After 31 years, Vogtle’s grandson Jesse S. Vogtle, Jr. left Alabama Power’s sister-wife Balch & Bingham during an exodus in 2020. Vogtle's exit appears to have tarnished Balch’s relationship with the utility and hurt Vogtle’s former colleague Crosswhite, who had previously worked at Balch for 17 years.

The Vogtle exit ended some of the worshipping, and Crosswhite’s reputation has tumbled ever since. The following probably will not help anyone's reputation at Southern Company. An environmental group claims Plant Vogtle is sinking -- no kidding -- and Nuclear News spells it out:

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), a North Carolina–based antinuclear organization, is claiming that Vogtle-3—one of two 1,100-MWe AP1000 pressurized water reactors currently under construction at the Vogtle nuclear plant near Waynesboro, Ga.—is sinking. .  . 

“Vogtle has finally admitted that the sheer weight of the nuclear island building is causing it to sink into the red Georgia clay,” said Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear power opponent of some prominence, in a BREDL press release. “It is figuratively and literally sinking under its own weight. Islands are not supposed to sink.”

No comments: