MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A two-hour public hearing where members of Alabama’s utility-regulating agency heard testimony about solar energy fees wasn’t a public meeting under state law, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday in rejecting a challenge by an audience member who was ejected for recording the gathering.
The all-Republican court upheld a lower court ruling that said the all-Republican Alabama Public Service Commission had a right to remove Laura Casey, a Democrat who was running for a seat on the PSC, for recording the proceeding last year.
Casey did not have rights under the state’s open meetings law because commissioners only listened passively to evidence rather than talking among themselves or “deliberating,” Associate Justice Will Sellers wrote. The lack of interaction meant the hearing wasn’t a meeting legally, the opinion said.
The hearing was held in November as environmental groups challenged Alabama Power Co.’s charges on homeowners who use solar panels. The PSC issued a decision Tuesday upholding the solar charges and allowing an increase which would amount to about $27 a month on a typical system, opponents said.
The hearing grew testy at times, with solar energy proponents packing the room and many wearing “Let It Shine” stickers.
Casey was among at least three audience members were ejected for recording or livestreaming the proceeding with their phones. An administrative law judge who presided complained about the recording and a “chirping” noise in the room, the decision said.
The utility contends the fee is needed to maintain a system that provides backup power when solar panels don’t provide enough electricity.