Paul Rilling: Covering PSC, Alabama Power in The Star
Feb 28, 2013 | 4514 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“Power politics” was a good Anniston Star report in February on one of Alabama’s most important, and most overlooked, regulatory agencies, the Public Service Commission. An elected three-member commission, the PSC controls the rates consumers pay for electricity and natural gas.

The article, by Tim Lockette, explained the approved rate-of-return limits, which the PSC has allowed the Alabama Power Co. since 1982. So long as the power company is making a return of 13.5 percent to 15 percent on equity, its rates are acceptable.

PSC Commissioner Terry Dunn has now urged the PSC to hold the first formal hearings on electric rates since 1982. The issue is whether these allowed rates of return are still fair to the company and consumers. The article quoted an expert in the field as stating that Alabama allows a higher profit rate to the company than many other states.

Alabama Power Co. is quoted as defending its present rate of return as misleading because Alabama Power uses less equity than most utilities. That statement would be unclear to many readers, but was not explained in the story. The article would have been stronger if it had included specific information on the rates of return allowed and the rates charged in other states (Feb. 17, Page 1A).

How they voted

Stories by The Star’s Montgomery and state reporter have given Star readers a window on state issues and on the current legislative session that has been missing for several years. Two recent stories, on Feb. 20 and Feb 27, included boxes on “How they voted,” giving the votes of area legislators on the bills. The Star should follow this practice on all legislative votes. Too often the media, including The Star, have failed to inform voters on the actions of their representatives.

Brewing up information

“Business is brewing” was an interesting story about a new kind of business coming to downtown Anniston. Well displayed on Page 1A with a Bill Wilson photo, the story, by Ben Cunningham, reported a plan by three people to open a brewpub in early March.

The story told us surprisingly little about the three people behind this venture. What is their background and experience? How long have they been in Anniston? We were given their names but little more. Two of the partners are described as meeting in Anniston, where they were working for a local company. The company wasn’t named.

They have Michigan backgrounds; one of the partners has moved back to Michigan. The wife of the chief executive of the company will be the brewer; she is said to have had nine years of brewing experience in Michigan, “working for different brewers” (Feb. 16, 1A).

Good sports reporting

The nature of wrestling matches makes them difficult for the media to cover. The Star’s high school sports reporter Brandon Miller and columnist Joe Medley did a good job of reporting on area teams in the recent state tournament in Huntsville. “Weaver’s Castro wins state title” by Miller was a fine example (Feb. 17, 1C). Also see Medley’s feature on Ohatchee wrestler Hannah Gladden (Feb. 14, 1A).

Star brights in February

• “Making the band,” by Laura Johnson, a warm feature about Jacksonville High School senior trumpeter Hannah Nelson (Feb. 3, 1B).

• “Mission of mercy,” by Brooke Carbo, a very readable feature about the travels of Anniston veterinarian Barry Nicholls.

• “History made,” a fine Jacksonville State basketball game story by Al Muskewitz (Feb. 21, 1B).

And some blips:

• Why does The Star run the weekly movie page on Fridays inside the sports section? It seems unreasonable and difficult to find.

• The Star carried no mention of the time for the president’s State of the Union address Feb. 12. The TV highlights were headlined, “State of the Union address not the only thing on TV tonight,” but there was no listing for the address (Feb. 12, 5A).

• There were four photos of people with the story “Spoken word, healing word.” None were identified (Feb. 17, 1B).

• The Sunday Record carried restaurant inspection ratings under the head, “Foreclosures” (Feb. 17).

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star
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