After an often-angry debate Wednesday, the state’s regulators hired a lawyer to launch a special investigation into Entergy Corp.’s handling of power restoration in some south Louisiana parishes after Hurricane Isaac.
For many parts of Louisiana, including the Baton Rouge area, electricity went back on fairly quick. Five days after crews started restoring power, all but 36,290 of the state’s 2.1 million customers of regulated utilities had their power restored, according to the state Public Service Commission, or PSC. At its peak, 903,039 utility customers were without power.
But some customers in Jefferson, Orleans, St. John the Baptist and Plaquemines parishes and other areas in south Louisiana were without power for a longer time, according to the utility regulators.
PSC Chairman Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish, said he didn’t see the need to convene a special hearing that would give a forum for angry people to vent and for politicians to posture.
Campbell said he wanted the investigation aimed at finding realistic improvements to the storm restoration systems and procedures of privately owned utility companies. “I’m not interested in showboating by a bunch of politicians,” Campbell said.
The five commissioners eventually approved, without dissent, hiring a special counsel and holding an investigatory hearing.
“It’s normal business for us. We know we’re going to be held accountable,” said Bill Mohl, chief executive officer for Entergy Louisiana LLC and Entergy Gulf States Louisiana LLC. “People were frustrated because they were without power. We understand.”
Some customers were without power three or four days before Entergy crews could start work, Mohl said in an interview after the PSC monthly meeting.
Entergy had some problems deploying crews to restore the power. For instance, its Slidell site where thousands of out-of-state repair crews were to be organized was flooded and had to be moved to another location in east New Orleans. Also, lingering winds over the 30-miles-per-hour limit kept the crews from getting the work started, he said.
Politicians blasted Mohl, during the storm and its aftermath, about Entergy’s restoration efforts. For instance, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., tweeted his supporters Sept. 4 about passing a staging area and seeing “hundreds of utility trucks parked with no one in sight at 7:55 a.m. Inexcusable.”
PSC Commissioner Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge, said most of his constituents were restored relatively quickly compared with past storms.
PSC Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, of Metairie, said his constituents’ experience was different.
Entergy officials, Skrmetta said, haven’t yet heard a lot of direct questions, such as, could the restoration teams have been moved earlier, and why did Entergy start restoring power Friday when other companies seemed to have begun Thursday?
He suggested paying Scott McQuaig, a lawyer from Metairie, $46,500 plus $1,500 in expenses to question elected officials in those south Louisiana parishes and come up with information that could be used in the special investigatory hearing.
“I don’t see the necessity of hiring counsel, which the ratepayers will have to pay, and conducting a special session,” Field said. “We should ask the hard questions.”
“You have restated generic questions,” Skrmetta responded.
PSC Commissioner Clyde Holloway, of Forest Hill, said “I do not feel we need to spend the money but I wouldn’t stand in the way.”