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With its vast networks, campaign donations, lobbyists and corporate philanthropy, Alabama Power is an emblematic example of the extensive power and influence of utilities.

Utility poles in Birmingham, Alabama (Flickr)

Alabama Power is a private electric utility corporation that serves the southern two-thirds of Alabama. It’s owned by Southern Company, the Atlanta-based behemoth that ranks as the third largest electric utility in the United States.

Alabama Power has been in the news recently, and not for good reasons. A January 2024 Guardian exposé revealed how the corporation uses its vast resources and influence to finance news coverage that portrays the utility in a positive light and avoids potentially damaging information. Another January 2024 Guardian story showed how the utility uses philanthropy to shell out millions to civil rights rights leaders and front groups that support the industry’s agenda, including opposing solar panels. All this comes on top of previous investigations — by NPR and the Guardian in 2022, for example — that covered how Alabama Power’s network attacked critical regulators. 

But if you know anything about electric utilities, none of this should be a surprise.

As LittleSis discussed in our Power Lines report, electric utilities are some of the most powerful actors in the entire corporate power structure, especially at the state and regional levels. Many hold virtually monopolies over our access to energy and rake in billions in guaranteed profits. They spend huge amounts of money on campaign donations and lobbying to influence politicians and regulators, and they fund vast philanthropic arms to burnish their public image and co-opt potential opponents (NextEra Energy subsidiary Florida Power and Light, in particular, has faced major scandals over its political dirty tricks operation). Look at the board of any local or state chamber of commerce, corporate-aligned charity, or big university, and you’ll likely find representatives of utility power.

This post digs into the power behind Alabama Power — its shareholders, board, executives, philanthropy, donations, lobbying, and more — to go deeper into how the corporation is an emblematic example of the power and influence of utilities.

Top Shareholders

While Alabama Power executives manage the day-to-day operations of the utility, Southern Company is the real power behind the corporation. Southern Company owns all of Alabama Power’s common stock and designates its board directors. Their logos are identical. Alabama Power’s CEO, who is also its Chairman and President, is selected by Southern Company. Alabama Power is just one of several utility subsidiaries that Southern Company owns; others include Georgia Power and Mississippi Power.

Five asset managers, listed below, beneficially own almost 27% of Southern Company’s common stock. In theory, these firms could potentially have sway over Southern Company’s, and therefore Alabama Power’s, corporate governance: 

FirmShares Beneficially OwnedMarket Value ($)Percentage Owned
State Street43,785,534$3,070,241,6444.0147%
FMR (Fidelity)38,906,760$2,518,045,4533.5674%
T. Rowe Price34,286,976$2,219,054,0003.1438%

Alabama Power’s Board of Directors

While Southern Company’s board of directors and top executives have ultimate sway over Alabama Power and set its board, it’s important to examine Alabama Power’s board, which helps oversee the utility’s immediate governance, and moreover, reflects Alabama Power’s influence and reach within the state.

A few striking facts emerge from mapping out Alabama Power’s ten-person board:

  • Extensive presence within state business and industry groups. As the state’s most powerful utility, Alabama Power is interlocked with the major business groups that donate, lobby and shape public opinion to advance general corporate interests in the state. For example, four out of the sixteen people — 25 percent! — who are officers and executive committee members of the Business Council of Alabama are also board directors of Alabama Power. This includes Alabama Power CEO Jeff Peoples, who is also the chairman of the board of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, an industry-funded group made up of the state’s top executives. A further two Alabama Power directors are ordinary directors of the Business Council board. The Business Council of Alabama, which calls itself the “voice for Alabama business,” partners with the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama to defend corporate interests in the state. The BCA hosts lobbying events for members “where guests… have the opportunity to network with state elected officials.” 

  • Ties to major centers of Alabama corporate power. Alabama Power board directors have affiliations with major corporations, banks and law firms that sit atop the state’s power structure, including the Cooper Group, Regions Bank, Great Southern Wood Holdings, Mercedes-Benz International and Maynard, Cooper & Gale. Several board members are also board directors of local Chambers of Commerce in the states.
  • Representation on university and school boards, charities and sports ties. One Alabama Power director serves on the board of trustees of the Jacksonville State University Foundation, while another director and longtime former Alabama Power executive, Bobbie Knight, is the president of Miles College. One director is a trustee of the Crimson Tide Foundation, which engages in boosterism and private fundraising for University of Alabama athletics (more on this below). Another board director is a trustee of UMS-Wright Preparatory School, a top private school in Mobile whose board is a loci of elite networking. Alabama Power makes big donations to state universities. Company directors also serve on boards of business-aligned charities and advocacy groups such as the Hope Institute, Women’s Foundation of Alabama, and Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
  • University of Alabama ties. It’s worth mentioning in more detail the close ties of Alabama Power to the University of Alabama and its sports complex, which is absolutely central to the life of the entire state and a nexus for elite networking. Donors who have given over one million dollars to Crimson Tide Foundation, which raises funds for the university’s athletic department, include Alabama Power, Alabama Power directors O.B. Grayson Hall Jr. (who is also a trustee of the foundation) and Phillip Webb, and Angus R. Cooper II, father of Alabama Power director Angus R. Cooper III. Alabama Power presents awards to football players and partners with the university on a “Alabama Mobility and Power Center.” 

Greenwashing and Philanthropy

Another major feature of Alabama Power’s board is the extensive ties to conservationist and environmental organizations, which reflects the utility’s greenwashing efforts. This is all the more pronounced since Alabama Power oversees the coal-fired James H. Miller power plant, the single dirtiest power plant in the U.S., and Southern Company ranks among the very top polluting utility corporations. The utility relies on coal — the dirtiest fossil fuel — for more than 40 percent of its power generation, and natural gas, another fossil fuel, for 29 percent.

To manage the optics around this reality, Alabama Power has executives and directors tied to numerous groups that include the Alabama Wildlife Federation, Delta Waterfowl, and the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board. The utility also makes donations to conservationist and environmental groups — such as to the Alabama Wildlife Center, Alabama Wildlife Federation, and the Freshwater Land Trust — even as it carries on with some of the nation’s most polluting operations. They also self-promote their proclaimed efforts to save rivers and birds at the same time they maintain some of the worst-polluting operations in the nation.

More broadly, Alabama Power wields philanthropy as a way to polish its public image and buy good favor across the state. The utility makes relatively small donations locally across Alabama, to everything from schools, arts organizations and churches, to museums, YMCAs and dog rescues.

Alabama Power’s philanthropic arm reflects a larger truth about utility power that LittleSis elaborated on in Power Lines and is worth quoting at length:

…[U]tilities typically have their own charitable foundations. These foundations pour millions in donations into the communities in which they operate, funding a variety of organizations as well social and cultural events. This begs the question: why would a for-profit entity spend executive time and corporate money on philanthropy? Philanthropy provides a number of benefits for utilities in particular. Investing resources into philanthropy allows utilities to burnish their image and promote themselves as caring community members working to fund needed resources, sponsor exciting events, and improve conditions in the very same communities they pollute and exploit. Utilities can highlight their efforts to shareholders who might otherwise be squeamish about investing in the corporation. Further, and perhaps most importantly, they can leverage their social and economic role against local communities and regulators to stymie dissent and accountability efforts around their profit-driven actions. In short, philanthropy is good for the brand and provides additional power and leverage against opposition.”

Campaign Finance, Ties to Regulators and Lobbying 

Utilities spend vast sums to influence politicians and regulators — and what’s worse, they do this using money that all of us are compelled to pay them. As we noted in Power Lines:

“Because most of us are captive customers to our electric utilities, and are therefore forced to pay them guaranteed profits to receive our basic needs, these utilities rake in an endless stream of revenue – from us. They then use these big, guaranteed profits we provide them to perpetuate their own power and influence: make big campaign donations to the politicians who appoint their regulators (or, some cases, to the regulators themselves); spend millions on well-connected armies of lobbyists; or shower civil society with charity and philanthropic gifts. All this helps utilities maintain their status across the US as among the most powerful corporate actors in every city, state and region.”

Alabama Power is no different. It is one of the very biggest political donors in the state. According to the state campaign finance database Follow the Money, Alabama Power has spent a whopping $7.2 million in Alabama over the past three decades. This includes $368,500 since 2002 to current Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. According to the campaign finance data aggregation site Vote Smart, Alabama Power is the fifth recent top donor to Governor Ivey. Notably, the second top donor, Fine Geddie & Associates, is a lobbying firm employed by Alabama Power (more on this below).

Like many big corporations, Alabama Power also operates through Political Action Committees (PACs). According to a May 2022 story from Energy and Policy Institute (EPI), Alabama Power donated nearly all of the $3.9 million to LION PAC, which had not yet filed major spending. EPI also reports that Alabama Power contributed more than $176,000 to politicians who pushed Alabama’s anti-LGTBQ+ bills.

Southern Company, the parent corporation of Alabama Power, was the second-top donor, with $103,930, in the 2022 Senate race to current Alabama U.S. Senator Katie Britt.

Within the state, the Public Service Commission that regulates Alabama Power is thought by many to be in the utility’s pocket. One former Republican commissioner, Terry Dunn, who had the gall to suggest the PSC hold formal hearings on energy bill costs, faced attacks tied to entities funded by or aligned with Alabama Power. Dunn remarked that “Southern Company and Alabama Power run the state of Alabama” and that “[t]hey work off intimidating. You gotta bow down and kiss the ring.”

The three current member of the Alabama PSC — Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Jeremy H. Oden, and Chip Beeker (who was once called Alabama Power’s “chosen one”) — are all embedded within the state GOP and have taken loads of donations from the coal industry and other business donors.

If their board interlocks, social networks, philanthropic sway, and big donations weren’t enough, Alabama Power employs an army of revolving door lobbyists, well connected to state government, to advance their interests.

According to Alabama’s 2024 Registered Lobbyist List, Alabama Power’s registered lobbyists and/or lobbying firms include:

  • Blaine Galliher, who spent 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and served as the Legislative Director for former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. Galliher’s firm is Windom, Galliher & Associates, whose founder and principal is Alabama’s former Lieutenant Governor.
  • Thomas E. Coker, who is known “as one the most influential figures in Alabama” and “one of the most powerful and influential lobbyists in Montgomery,” and who served two former U.S. senators and also worked for the Business Council of Alabama.
  • The lobbying firm Fine Geddie & Associates, whose founding partners served in the Alabama State Senate, with U.S. Senators, and a former Alabama Governor.
  • The lobbying form Swatek, Vaughn & Bryan, with one partner who served “as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives” and another who served as “the Chief of Staff for the President Pro Tem of the Alabama Senate.”

Southern Company: Alabama Power’s Parent Corporation

It’s also worth examining Southern Company’s board of directors. Southern Company is one of the very biggest and most powerful utilities in the U.S., with tremendous influence throughout the South. As Alabama Power’s parent corporation, Southern Company’s sway helps advance Alabama Power’s agenda at the regional and national levels. 

Some key patterns emerge from examining Southern Company’s board:

  • Interlocked with a national network of utility power: Southern Company directors have held top executive positions and directorships, past and present, at some of the biggest electric utilities in the U.S., including PG&E, DTE Energy, and Arizona Public Service Company, as well as privatized water corporation Essential Utilities and LNG corporation New Fortress Energy. Southern Company Director Hal Clark III is the former chair of the Edison Electric Institute, the most influential national lobbying group for utility power. Southern Company Director Tony Earley Jr., the former chairman and CEO of PG&E, previously served on the executive committees of both the Edison Electric Institute and the Nuclear Energy Institute.
  • Extensive ties to larger corporate community, especially Wall Street: Southern Company directors are enmeshed in a web of ties to powerful corporate actors and sectors, including Wall Street firms like Blackstone, Wells Fargo, Regions Financial Corporation, Invesco, SunTrust Banks, Grain Management, Evercore,  Protective Life, Capital City Bank and Pinnacle West Capital. Two corporate directors are former directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta (immediate former CEO Thomas Fanning even chaired the Atlanta Fed). Southern Company directors are also tied to powerful corporate law firms like Jones Day. Company directors also have interlocks with Google, Ford Motor Company, Vulcan Materials Company, Popeyes and Krispy Kreme.
  • Board filled with former industry regulators and government officials. Southern Company Director Ernest Moniz was the U.S. Secretary of Energy from 2013 to 2017. Southern Company director Kristine Svinicki is the former Commissioner and Chairman of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Southern Company CEO and Chairman Chris Womack worked in the U.S. House of Representative, including as a legislative aide for former Congressman (and then Secretary of Defense and CIA Director) Leon Panetta. Colette D. Honorable, who just recently left the Southern Company board, was a Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a major interstate energy regulator, from 2015 to 2017.
  • University and think tank ties. Southern Company Director Lizanne Thomas is a trustee of Washington & Lee University, while Lead Independent Director David J. Grain is a member of the Advisory Board of the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College, as well as a trustee of the Brookings Institution. Ernest Moniz is Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the head of the Energy Futures Initiatives think tank and a connected for-profit energy consulting firm EJM Associates. Kristine Svinicki teaches at the University of Michigan. Director Dale E. Klein served as Associate Vice Chancellor of Research of the University of Texas System. Director E. Jenner Wood is a recent former trustee of Emory University.

It should be noted that the ties listed above merely skim the surface of the extensive web of interlocks with corporations, universities and charities held by the Southern Company’s top leadership.

While utilities like Alabama Power are extremely powerful, it’s important to emphasize that organizers are making important strides to challenge their influence and imagine new and more equitable and democratic ways of organizing our energy system. Groups and campaigns like We The People Michigan, POWER Interfaith, Public Power NY, and many others are building momentum and even notching victories, though there is still much work to be done.

Moreover, as this article shows, and as Power Lines emphasized, the fight against private, for-profit utility power is not just about energy. Utilities are at the heart of the larger corporate power structure, which means any attempt to fight for broader justice and equality at the state and regional level will necessarily involve taking on utility power. With resources like Power Lines, you have what you need to start mapping — and challenging — utility power in your area.