An Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is a planning tool used by electric utilities. It is a long-term plan examining the utility’s “energy demand and supply and identifying risks that could prevent them from” best serving their ratepayers with low-cost and reliable energy. An IRP serves as a “roadmap for how a utility will meet electricity needs in the coming decades”.
What about IRPs in Alabama?
Most states require utilities to generate IRPs, Alabama does not. While IRPs are not required in Alabama, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) must complete the planning process every five years. Alabama Power voluntarily files an IRP with the Public Service Commission (PSC) every three years, sometimes more frequently. The process varies across states and utilities, but almost all IRPs include certain basic criteria, according to the U.S. Department of Energy:
- System demand (how much energy are people and businesses using)
- System growth (think population and business growth)
- Fossil and renewable energy resources
- Baseload and peaking generation
- Strategies to enhance energy security
- Energy efficiency policies and programs
- Applicable federal and state laws
- Strategies for cost-effectiveness
Alabama Power’s IRP process supposedly includes all items listed above, but only a summary of the plan is made available to the public after being approved by the PSC. The published documentation does not include an economic analysis, for instance, so Alabamians don’t really know if Alabama Power’s plan is a good deal. What else is not included? Alabama Power’s customers in the planning process.
Like Alabama Power, TVA also shuts the public out of its IRP process, although to a lesser degree.
Why does this matter?
IRPs impact the reliability and cost of our power and determine the power projects we will be paying for. While our priorities may lie in affordability and clean energy, our utilities often have different priorities, such as profit. While we are being left out of the planning process, TVA and Alabama Power are building out massive natural gas projects – costing customers more money and having devastating consequences for public health.
Most regulated utilities allow impacted parties into their planning process. This is not the case in Alabama. Energy Alabama is working to change this and get Alabamians a seat at the table.
Photo of “The People’s Voice on TVA”, a public hearing on TVA’s IRP process (January 25, 2024); source Appalachian Voices