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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Alabama Power to Meet with Albert Turner Over Shabby Treatment of Rural Customers

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on June 19, 2019

Yesterday, Perry County, Alabama Commissioner Albert Turner, Jr., announced that he will meet with Alabama Power Company officials on June 25, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. in the board room of Marion Military Institute. The meeting will address recent concerns voiced by Turner about a planned reduction in Alabama Power's customer service in Perry County.

Turner is a longtime human rights activist and one of the few elected officials in Alabama who is “unbossed” and “unbought.” Like his parents, who were nationally-recognized civil rights icons in West Alabama, Commissioner Turner stands up for poor people, middle-class Alabamians, senior citizens on a fixed income, and small business owners when he sees a glaring injustice in the way these people are treated.

Turner found such an injustice two weeks ago when Alabama Power announced that it was closing 40 of its 86 business offices across the state by August 2019. As expected, these offices are located in West Alabama’s Black Belt counties (including Alabama Power’s office in Marion, the county seat for Perry County) and other rural communities around the state.

Turner understands the business case for closing these business offices, but he decries Alabama Power’s policy and practice of allowing its authorized, privately operated payment centers to charge customers a processing fee of $1 to $3 for each bill payment made at these locations. This fee gouges the customers who choose to pay their bills at the payment centers and it effectively constitutes a rate increase that is borne solely by these customers.

Commissioner Turner points out that this transactional fee should be borne by Alabama Power Company, as was the case in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Alabama Power began the shift to privately operated payment centers.

Turner’s announcement stated:

“The Southern Company, which is the parent company of Alabama Power Company, will send Leslie Sanders, the Vice President of the Southern Division, to Marion, Alabama. Leslie is responsible for the company’s operations in parts of 19 counties in South Central Alabama, including Montgomery and Marion. The Southern Division’s 660 employees serve approximately 220,000 customers. She has been in her current role since August 2011. 

Commissioner Turner called for a meeting shortly after being informed that the company will close the Marion office, as of August 2019. The news was not received well by Commissioner Turner. In an effort to address several issues that were forwarded to [Alabama Power’s] Sr. Vice President Quentin Riggins, a meeting has been planned to solve those concerns. 

The Commissioner acknowledged that Alabama Power Company is working through two friends -- Leslie Sanders and Quentin Riggins. Turner said, ‘with those two individuals, the public can be assured that a People's plan will be presented. I have all the confidence in the world that the meeting will be about a solution to common sense problems.’”

After we published an exclusive article on June 11, 2019 about Commissioner Turner’s concerns, Alabama Power promptly called for a meeting with him to address these concerns.

Turner's has requested the elimination of the $1 to $3 service charge for bill payments at authorized third-party payment centers in each of the cities on the closure list. He has also requested that at least one payment center in each city have the ability to post same-day credits to customer accounts upon payment. Finally, he has requested that indigent clients who receive assistance from family services agencies have the ability to communicate directly with a manager to credit those accounts immediately upon approval by the agency that a payment will be made.

Commissioner Turner is not demanding that Alabama Power’s local offices remain open. Instead, he simply wants the level of customer service provided at the company's local offices to remain the same at the privately operated payment centers.

Turner said, “[Alabama Power] is a [publicly traded] company and if they want to close offices, that's their decision. However, they are assured a profit by the [State of Alabama’s] government of a minimum 5% annual return on equity, so I feel that their customer service should not be a cost to a customer unless the customer wants to pay for it. There should be an option available to customers to [avoid paying] a service fee [at the third-party payment centers] just as it is with their online payments. Rural customers should not be punished because they don't have internet and poor people shouldn't be punished because they can't purchase a computer. The elderly shouldn't be punished because they don't know how to use a computer.

Commissioner Turner expressed confidence that Leslie Sanders, Quinton Riggins and Alabama Power will resolve this matter to his satisfaction.

A number of elected officials are expected to attend this meeting, including District 7 Congresswoman Terry Sewell (or her representative) to small town mayors from surrounding areas. The meeting is open to the public, but seating is limited to invited guests.

The meeting is credited, in part, to a successful and engaging corporate roundtable Commissioner Turner formed in Perry County several years ago. Alabama Power’s area manager is a member of the roundtable.

The meeting is also the result of Turner's willingness to stand up and speak out on behalf of poor people, middle-class customers, senior citizens on a fixed income, and small business owners. His advocacy in this regard is a Turner family legacy and core value.

When asked what will happen if Alabama Power does not adequately address his concerns, Turner replied, “I don't meet just to meet, or for photo ops. I have assurances that the company is working sincerely to ease the inconveniences that I have mentioned to them. Think about it, Alabama Power doesn't want to make it harder for them to collect their money."

Alabama Power Enjoys Booming Revenues

Although Alabama Power has proposed to cut customer services in Black Belt counties and rural communities around the state, the company’s cost-cutting measures do not apply to Alabama Power’s high-flying corporate lifestyle and mind-blowing executive perks. Alabama Power continues to sponsor extravagant game-day events at college football games in Tuscaloosa and Auburn. Its corporate jets are still ferrying executives and dignitaries back and forth to exotic ports of call. Its presence is still felt at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, at Regions’ golf tournament in Birmingham, at national NCAA championship football games around the nation, at NLF Super Bowls, at “March Madness” games, and at ritzy air shows in Paris and London. Last year, Alabama Power agreed to pay $500,000 per year for a naming rights sponsorship package for the new UAB football stadium in downtown Birmingham and for the luxury skybox that goes with it. The list of over-the-top corporate perks paid for by ratepayers in Perry County and elsewhere in the state is endless.

Alabama Power Company generated $6 billion in gross revenues in 2018. The company’s net income after payment of operating expenses and shareholder dividends was $930 million. This amount represents an increase in net income of $82 million, or 9.7%, over the previous year.

According to Advanced Energy Economy’s Power Portal database, which tracks ROE for over 100 publicly-owned utilities across the country, the highest ROE allowed by a public utility commission belongs to  Alabama Power Co., at 13.75%.  This ROE places Alabama Power is in a class by itself. Furthermore, Alabama taxpayers guarantee Alabama Power a five percent minimum annual return on the company’s equity. If there is a shortfall in this guaranteed minimum return on equity, taxpayers must make up the difference.

In 2015, Alabama Power overcharged its customers by $146 millionthrough a fee used to cover fuel costs. Instead of issuing refunds to customers, as required by law, Alabama Power simply reduced its energy cost recovery in 2016 by $120 million dollars. The Alabama Public Service Commission characterized this reduction as a “rate cut” in a press release issued by the agency. The Commission’s press release made it look as if Alabama Power was doing its customers a favor rather than giving them back their own money, as required by law.

Locations of Alabama Power Business Office Closures

Alabama Power’s business office closures will occur in Columbiana, Gardendale, Leeds, Aliceville, Carbon Hill, Dora, Greensboro, Hamilton, Linden, Livingston, Sulligent, West Blocton, York, Clayton, Daleville, Slocomb, Alexander City, Ashville, Attalla, Blountsville, Heflin, Jacksonville, Wedowee, Bayou La Batre, Brewton, Butler, Citronelle, Flomaton, Grove Hill, Jackson, Prichard, Theodore, Fort Deposit, Georgiana, Marion, Tallassee, Wetumpka, Ashford, Florala, and Geneva.

Commissioner Turner is the only public official in Alabama who publicly complained about the adverse impact of the planned office closures on poor people, middle-class consumers, senior citizens on a fixed income, and small business owners in these locations. No other public "watchdog" barked.

PHOTO: Perry County, Alabama Commissioner Albert Turner, Jr., pictured below, will meet with Alabama Power Company officials Leslie Sanders and Quinton Riggins on June 25, 2019 in Marion, Alabama to address recent customer service issues in his political district.

PHOTO: Alabama Power Company Vice President Leslie Sanders is pictured below.

PHOTO: Alabama Power Company Vice President Quinton Reggins is pictured below.

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