Mayor of coal-heavy Birmingham, Ala., pledges to go all green

Source: Kristi E. Swartz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, June 15, 2018

The mayor of Birmingham, Ala., has become the latest to pledge that his city will get all of its electricity from all renewable sources.

Mayor Randall Woodfin signed a pledge from the nonprofit Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, or GASP. The Sierra Club also has a similar initiative called the “Ready for 100” campaign, which aims to get more U.S. cities to commit to only renewables.

Woodfin’s promise is significant given Alabama’s energy profile. The state has been slow to transition away from coal and to adopt renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind.

What’s more, Birmingham is home to Southern Co.’s Alabama Power unit and Southern Co. Services Inc., as well as Southern Nuclear. The companies are major employers and contributors to the city and to Alabama’s economic development.

They also carry considerable political power at the state government and Public Service Commission.

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said the utility has been in communications with the city and will be open to assisting the mayor and council in meeting their energy needs and goals.

Southern has significantly cut the use of coal across its now three-state territory over the past decade, and the company recently has embarked on a strategy that will fully transition to a low- to no-carbon fleet by 2050.

That will include natural gas, which company CEO Tom Fanning said will be necessary as it continues to add renewable energy and distributed technologies. Nuclear also will play a role.

For its part, Alabama Power has worked with military bases to add utility-scale solar projects there.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a formal complaint with the PSC over the utility’s fixed fee for rooftop solar, however.

GASP’s pledge hits on a wide range of areas including jobs, environmental justice and climate change, an issue that has become heavily politicized. The Birmingham City Council has yet to adopt the 100 percent renewable resolution.

“From the governor’s mansion in Montgomery to city halls across Alabama, there has been a baffling lack of action in this state to address the human causes of climate change and to mitigate the impacts,” said GASP Executive Director Michael Hansen.