Robert Lane McCollum is a candidate for Public Service Commission (PSC) Place two, challenging incumbent Chris “Chip” Beeker (R) in the Republican primary.

When asked by 1819 News for his motivation in running for PSC, McCollum responded, “I have got a problem with someone trying to use his office for personal gain.”

McCollum chastised Beeker for attempting to lease his 451-acre farm in Greene County to a solar company contracted with Alabama Power for $500 an acre while he was a member of the PSC.

That deal fell through after the Alabama Ethics Commission voted 3-2 to disallow the contract; this was widely reported at the time. 

“They did not drop that until [former PSC] Commissioner [Terry] Dunn threatened to file a [law] suit,” McCollum said.

McCollum also voiced his opposition to the PSC allowing Alabama Power to charge a fee to any Alabama Power customer who installs solar panels.

“I am opposed to the sun tax,” McCollum said. “We should do away with the requirement that customers pay Alabama Power whether or not you’re using their service.”

Alabama Power says that they charge a fee to customers with solar panels because the company has to maintain the capacity for that customer when their solar system is down at night, during maintenance or in cloudy conditions.

Solar energy advocates claim this fee discourages Alabamians from installing solar panels since most of the savings from installing a system are paid to Alabama Power in this service charge. Beeker and the PSC found in favor of Alabama Power Company after a hearing challenging the fee.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which is not regulated by the PSC because it is a federal agency, does not charge its customers with solar panels a fee.

McCollum stressed his opposition and promised to overturn the decision to allow the fee if he is a member of the PSC.

“I’m Robert Lane McCollum, born and raised in Tallapoosa County Alabama,” McCollum said in a statement to 1819 News. “Proud graduate of Horseshoe Bend High School. I spent the last three years as a small business owner. I was in everything from construction to truck rental and vending machines. I enjoyed every minute of it. I felt a call to run for office because I feel we need honesty, integrity and transparency. I feel I can and will deliver that.

“The PSC should be more transparent. The PSC should share their minutes with major newsgroups like the Birmingham News. I think that there should be rate hearings.”

The PSC sets Alabama Power Company’s rates because power companies are regulated monopolies within their region of operation. McCollum said Alabama Power is getting paid a 14.5% rate of return on their rates while in neighboring states’ power companies get an 11.5% rate of return, a 4% difference that would be significant over the course of a year.

“That would be a decrease of 4% a year on their electric service. They would save a little bit, but those savings would add up over the course of a year,” McCollum said.

McCollum stated that he favors term limits for the PSC and that if someone serves more than two terms on the commission, the odds are that they are corrupt.  He also refuses PAC contributions while claiming his opponent, Robin Litaker, has accepted contributions from liberal environmentalists that normally contribute to Democrats.  McCollum said those donations can be verified on the Secretary of State's website.

“I want to be a very open candidate,” McCollum said.

McCollum stated that as a member of the PSC he would have his phone number published so that any Alabamian with a concern could contact him.

“I will call them back,” McCollum promised.

McCollum said that if the PSC commissioners have a disagreement that he will take his case to the people and will make the disagreement very public.

McCollum suggested that Alabama Power Company was finding a way to get money into the PSC races.

“I am sick of government by and for self-interests and their glorified bribes,” McCollum said.

Chip Beeker, Litaker, and McCollum are all running in the May 24 Republican primary for PSC Commissioner Place Two.

Even though there are two PSC places available, both run statewide and will be on the same ballot. The PSC president is voted on in presidential election years.

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