Rural Customers Win Major Concessions from Alabama Power Company
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on June 26, 2019
Yesterday, Perry County, Alabama Commissioner Albert Turner, Jr., announced the successful outcome of his meeting with Alabama Power Company. The meeting was requested by Turner to address his concerns about Alabama Power’s plan to close 40 of its 86 local offices around the state by August 16, 2019. The closures targeted offices in Black Belt counties and rural communities, and reduced customer services in these areas.
Turner is a longtime human rights activist and one of the few elected officials in Alabama who is “unbossed” and “unbought.” Like his mother and father, who were nationally-recognized human 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 whenever he sees an injustice inflicted upon them.
Turner saw such an injustice when Alabama Power Company announced the office closures earlier this month. The office in Marion, which is the county seat for Perry County, is on the list of closures.
Turner understands the articulated business case for closing these offices, but he denounced Alabama Power’s practice of allowing its authorized privately owned and operated payment centers to charge customers a processing fee of $1 to $3 for each bill payment made in person at these locations. In Turner's view, these transactional fees gouge Alabama Power's "pay in person" customers and effectively constitutes an unauthorized rate increase that is borne solely by the affected customers.
Commissioner Turner believed the transactional fees should be borne exclusively by Alabama Power Company. This was Alabama Power's custom and practice in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the company began the gradual shift to privately operated payment centers.
During his meeting Tuesday with Alabama Power Company executives and local public officials, poor people, rural customers, senior citizens on a fixed income, and small business owners won major concessions from the utility giant. Below is a list of Commissioner Turner’s concerns and the concessions won during the meeting:
1. Alabama Power customers are being charged transaction fees for bill payments by its authorized third-party payment center operators: Alabama Power Company agreed that all authorized payment centers will cease collecting these service fees by August 16, 2019. However, non-authorized payment centers will continue to charge customers for their transactions.
2. Authorized payment centers are not allowing same-day credits (shadow payments) on the day the payments are made: Alabama Power Company agreed that all authorized payment centers will provide same-day credit immediately upon payment. In fact, Alabama Power officials noted that an aggressive education of its authorized payment centers began after Commissioner Turner voiced his concerns publicly on June 11, 2019. Company officials noted that several authorized payment centers were not well versed in the payment process, but that situation is changing.
3. Social service agencies did not have access to privately operated payment centers for the purpose of making payment arrangements on behalf of their clients: Alabama Power Company officials promised that a dedicated phone number will be provided in order for social services agencies to call area managers to make payment pledges and arrangements. This number will be available prior to the August 16 closing date.
4. The fate of local Alabama Power Company office buildings: This issue is being discussed in-depth to get values on each property, according to Alabama Power Company Vice President Leslie Sanders. The company’s desire is to transfer ownership of these properties via a sale to local governments at a market or below market price.
5. Community support from Alabama Power Company has been anemic in Black Belt counties and rural communities: Alabama Power officials acknowledged that the Alabama Power Foundation, Inc. has not made its presence felt in rural communities, particularly in Black Belt counties. However, that will change immediately. Area managers will aggressively begin educating communities on the Foundation's mission and encouraging deserving entities to seek funding from the Foundation. Company officials made a firm commitment to show more corporate reinvestment and social responsibility in the Black Belt communities, via the Foundation.
After the meeting, Commissioner Turner said, "this meeting was needed, and the results were all on point. This is what happens when you sit down with corporate officials and discuss issues of importance that affect the citizens. We get positive results."
Alabama Power VP Leslie Sanders applauded Commissioner Turner for bringing his concerns to the table in a frank and honest fashion. She also thanked all of the local officials who were concerned enough about their communities to join in and work as partners-in-progress with Alabama Power Company on these concerns.
Among those who were present and who participated in Commissioner Turner’s meeting were: Aubrey Carter, Area Manager at Alabama Power, Mike Jordan, Manager of Southern Division, Leslie Sanders, Vice President Southern Division, Latonia Tisdale, Office Supervisor for Marion and Selma, Hale County Commission Chairman Arthur Crawford, Hale County Commissioner Donald Anderson, City of Greensboro Clerk Gay Nell Singleton, State Representative Prince Chestnut, Melissa Williams from the Office of Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Margret Hardy from State Senator Malika Sander's office, Perry County DHR Director Ms. Dorothy Carson, Frances Ford of Perry County Sowing Seeds of Hope, and Colonel David J. Mollahan of Marion Military Institute.
PHOTO: Perry County, Alabama Commissioner Albert Turner, Jr. (center) is surrounded by local officials who attended his meeting on Tuesday with Alabama Power Company executives.
PHOTO: Alabama Power Company Vice President Leslie Sanders.