Memo to Alabama Power: Time to Retire the “Wallace Excuse”

 Wallace bullied Alabama Power, and company officials vowed it would never happen again

GeorgeWallace

George Wallace, in fighting mode.

By Eddie Curran   

There are almost as many Alabama Power lobbyists working the Legislature as there are state senators.

The company spent $50.4 million to influence politics and public opinion in the last 2-1/2 years for which such records are available, according to a recent report by Al.Com’s John Archibald. Spending per customer in that category is four times the amounts spent by its Southern Company sister companies, Georgia Power and Florida Power, three times that of Mississippi Power, and seven times higher than Pacific Gas, the nation’s largest utility. 

No utility in the country has more influence over its state’s political and regulatory processes than Alabama Power has here.

The company’s excuse for the immense control it exerts on state politics once had validity, but no more.   

After all, George Wallace has been dead for a long time.

In the 1970s, with race relations removed from Wallace’s populist arsenal, he found a new whipping boy.

“He had a new issue, us arriving on the scene with utility rate increases,” said the late Joe Farley, Alabama Power’s president from 1969 to 1989. “He was populist and could become a fierce spokesman for what he perceived that the public wanted, and the public did not want rate increases,” Farley is quoted as saying in “Big Bets,” a history of the Southern Company.

Other utilities also faced higher costs but Alabama Power  “served more customers and we were obviously much more important to people’s pocketbooks,” Farley said.

Wallace and the company warred throughout the 1970s. Wallace used his influence over all elements of governance — the PSC, the Legislature, the courts — to deny the company rate increases that it needed to finance new power plants.

In 1978, the company had an anemic 4.46 rate of return and had to lay off employees.

When Wallace left office, things improved dramatically. Soon after, the company made a decision to launch itself full bore into the political process. It vowed to never again be vulnerable to a populist governor.

It’s been 35 years since Wallace could cause Alabama Power trouble, and just as long since anyone took a serious political swipe at the company.

Now, as it has been for 25 years, the company’s allowed rate of return is inexcusably high, dwarfing the permitted profits of other regulated electric monopolies throughout the country.

And nothing — George Wallace included — can justify what’s being done to Terry Dunn.

Now, Alabama Power is the bully. Worse, it’s a coward for pretending it has nothing to do with the attacks on Dunn.

Outgoing Alabama Power President and  CEO Charles McCrary

“Nothing is financially right if it’s morally wrongYou have to start by running your business with honesty, integrity and by telling the truth. Once you do that, you can then start focusing on results.” — Charles McCrary

McCrary, and his replacement, Mark Crosswhite. Will the treatment of Terry Dunn continue under Crosswhite?  Will Crosswhite, a major Southern Company executive prior to taking over at Alabama Power, acknowledge the company’s role in the attacks on Dunn, or will he, Alabama Power and Southern Company continue to pretend they’ve had nothing to do with it?

Left to right: recently retired Alabama Power president Charles McCrary; VP of External Affairs Zeke Smith; and Nick Sellers, Vice President of Regulatory and Corporate Affairs.

They hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.