Politics and Our Utility Rates
Several years ago, I was introduced to former Mobile Press Register reporter Eddie Curran, author of The Governor of Goat Hill, and after purchasing his book, I’ve been eagerly waiting for Curran to sink his teeth into another investigative journey regarding Alabama politics. For those unacquainted with Curran’s book, it’s the compilation of his years covering the corruption involving former Gov. Don Siegelman, but also a virtual encyclopedia of political players associated with state government, then and now.
With Curran’s interest in the Alabama Public Service Commission, it appears that my wait is over.
Curran is now self-employed in the legal research field and his services were recently engaged by a non-profit group in Mississippi trying to protect state taxpayers from the financial burden of a Mississippi Power plant project. His work for that non-profit inadvertently led him to the rate hearings regarding Alabama utilities and the full assault from numerous political angles on PSC Commissioner Terry Dunn.
What he discovered is fascinating but also extremely disturbing, and informed voters should take the time prior to the June 2014 primary to review his work at http://www.isalabamapowerbehindthemask.com.
Curran has submitted numerous and necessary questions to the groups attacking Commissioner Dunn but I have one of my own: When did questioning excessive rates of return and consumer utility rates become a red flag in determining that someone is a liberal, tree-hugging, environmental extremist? As I’m also questioning the opposition to rate hearings as they are conducted in other states, I suppose I’ll be slapped with the same label.
Much has been written regarding the utility rate hearings and a simple Google search can provide an abundance of details. I’ve read those articles as well as various conservative blog postings, received a plethora of emails from organizations I had previously neither heard of nor subscribed to, and even before reading Curran’s material, I wasn’t convinced that Commissioner Dunn had suddenly turned into the bogeyman as he’s being portrayed.
Somehow, Dunn’s interest and request for rate hearings indicated that he was an environmental extremist against coal-powered energy. I had a difficult time in making that leap a few months ago and Curran’s research is confirming those doubts.
My concern now is pertaining to the enormous amount of effort in defaming Dunn and just who is behind these attacks, especially as it relates to the money trail. This race has already drawn more primary competition than almost any other state-held office in the state. Why? And why was one of those candidates assisted in a fundraiser by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a lobbyist whose firm has close associations with Southern Company, the parent company of Alabama Power?
According the Curran’s obviously self-funded documentary – not a criticism, simply a fact which serves to validate that Curran is not being funded by deep pockets that so frequently obscure political agendas - Commissioner Dunn campaigned on taking a look at utility rates, but once elected, was advised by highly connected politicos to just “leave it alone.” From the PSC website, their mission is “to ensure a regulatory balance between regulated companies and consumers in order to provide consumers with safe, adequate and reliable services at rates that are equitable and economical,” yet Dunn was told to “keep your head down” and he essentially keep his job as long as he wanted it. This begs the question of why the PSC is even needed if questioning rates is immediately dismissed and discouraged by the political forces in Montgomery.
Political influence in Alabama by one of the “Big Mules” is certainly nothing new, but the amount of money now expended should be troubling to every voter, especially if it is somehow connected as Curran theorizes to discredit a public servant via questionable tactics.
According to Curran’s research, Alabama Power Company spends “almost $20 million per year to sway public or political opinion which dwarfs the amount paid by other utilities in the region.”
At the end of Curran’s documentary, he provides this: “Add up all the political money spent at Georgia Power, Mississippi Power, Florida Power, Kentucky Power, Carolina Power & Light, Ohio Power, and Duke Energy in 2008, and it still didn’t equal the money spent by Alabama Power that year. “ Once again, “follow the money” in politics because it is always extremely revealing.
Marcia Chambliss is the Alabama State Coordinator of Smart Girl Politics, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to the education and training of activists and candidates, and Smart Girl Politics Action, http://sgpaction.com/, a 501(c)(4) which focuses on conservative issues. She can be reached at Marcia@sgpaction.com. Her views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart Girl Politics Action.