January 29, 2013 – In an email earlier this morning, the Alabama Department of Community Affairs (ADECA) announced the delay of three meetings scheduled for next week to receive stakeholder input regarding a State Energy Plan. The meetings were to occur in Decatur, Birmingham, and Montgomery from 8:30 AM to Noon on February 5th, 6th, and 7th.
“It was clear from the beginning that this process was never intended to hear from real electricity stakeholders in Alabama, but rather from a select group of environmental interest,” says PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “Fortunately, Governor Bentley’s administration took the appropriate steps to delay these meetings before a handful of people hijacked them.” Late in 2012, ADECA contracted with an out-of-state consulting firm, Baker Tilly, to develop the state’s energy plan with input from stakeholders. Baker Tilly, which is eligible to receive as much as $100,000 under the contract, describes itself on a company website as specializing in renewable energy.
“I think most Alabamians would be surprised to learn that we’ve turned over the keys to a state energy plan to a company headquartered in Chicago and without a single office in the Southeast,” says Brown. “And on top of that, this is a firm in the business of advising renewable energy clients. It’s biased from the outset.”
Other flaws became apparent early in the process. For example, registration information for the three stakeholder meetings appeared on a Baker Tilly website, but listed no registration deadline. Meanwhile, the Alabama Environmental Council sent a number of emails to members and affiliates with a deadline date of January 28th. It is unclear how the Alabama Environmental Council became privy to information that was never available to the general public.
The meetings themselves also posed challenges to stakeholders. Not only were the meetings scheduled during the work day, when working people are least able to participate, but there was no meeting scheduled for the southern part of Alabama. The meetings also threatened to violate the Open Meetings Act, because of the likely participation of various members of Legislative Subcommittees on Energy, constituting a quorum. No advance notice was posted for public view and no agenda was provided prior to the meetings.
“Alabama now has a chance to develop its state energy plan the right way, instead of suppressing the voices of everyday electricity consumers,” explained Brown. “We applaud the Bentley Administration for identifying these gross oversights, and hope that future plans for meetings demonstrate the kind of inclusiveness and diversity that Alabamians deserve.”