PSC considers consumer programs

State regulators Wednesday backed off their opposition to establishing a program that would provide rebates to consumers who buy energy efficient appliances, but voted to study the issue for at least another month.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission then turned aside another proposal that would have made it less financially viable for customers of privately owned utility companies who installed solar panels to lower monthly electric bills.

Both votes had the same 3-2 breakdown with PSC commissioners Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, Lambert Boissiere III, of New Orleans, and Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish voting together. Commissioner Clyde Holloway, of Forest Hill, and PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta, of Metairie, voted against both proposals.

The “energy efficiency” program would give consumers incentives to improve their homes and buy energy efficient appliances. The goal of the program is to reduce the amount of energy consumers need by using what they buy more efficiently.

Forty-six states have adopted similar programs. The city of New Orleans, which is not regulated by the PSC, also has an energy efficiency program.

The five elected PSC members voted in December to begin collecting a monthly fee of about 50 cents to help pay for establishing the program for the rest of the state’s roughly 2.1 million customers of privately owned utility companies.

Two months later the PSC dropped the program without allowing public testimony.

As part of a settlement to a lawsuit challenging the PSC’s handling of the February vote, the regulators agreed to allow public testimony before revoting on the issue Wednesday.

Zack Gyler, who runs apartment buildings in Baton Rouge, testified that the incentive programs would help his small business afford to add insulation, weather stripping and tinted windows to his apartment buildings and thereby cut his highest monthly expenditure, the electricity bill.

Jackie Dadakis, of Green Coast Enterprises in New Orleans, testified that the energy efficiency renovations her firm has done for clients translated into 25 percent to 45 percent savings on monthly electric bills, or about $675 savings per participant annually.

Skrmetta said the program benefits one group of electricity customers at the expense of another group of customers.

“This is a tax on people to provide energy efficient light bulbs and thermostats and insulation ... Everyone needs to understand that every penny that a utility spends that is regulated by the Public Service Commission is recovered by the utilities with a profit, from the ratepayers. This is not a freebie,” Skrmetta said.

“I am tired of hearing about what’s wrong with our country that we can’t pick ourselves up a little bit by our own durn bootstraps,” Holloway said.

Angelle, who voted in February to vacate the program, switched positions Wednesday but said he still has problems with the program that was approved in December.

For instance, the energy efficiency program approved in December, Angelle said, allowed industrial manufacturers — the largest users of electricity — to opt out by not paying the fee or participating in the program.

He worried that with such a large group not participating, the cost would be made up with higher fees on some customers but not others.

“All these things to me need to be tweaked,” Angelle said. “I can’t support the order as it is now.”

He asked that public testimony be allowed until July 15 and the PSC can decide what to do at its next meeting on July 31.

The PSC’s second vote involved a tax credit that has been under fire recently because, when coupled with federal incentives, it saves homeowners and businessmen 80 cents on every dollar spent installing solar panels that make electricity.

Holloway has made repeated efforts to make the solar power incentive program less financially viable by tinkering with how monthly bills are calculated, an aspect that the PSC controls.

Electricity must be used immediately. Because solar only produces during sunshine hours — when most people are at work — the individual systems add power to the utility’s grid of electricity.

At night, they draw power from the grid. Owners of solar panels are “paid” for the power moved onto the grid during the day and those credits reduce the amount they have to pay for the electricity used at night.

The system is called “net metering.”

Holloway had proposed lowering the amount net metering pays.