By Mark Ballard
Capitol news bureau
March 13, 2013
State regulators overturned Wednesday an “energy efficiency” program they approved in December.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to abolish the program without allowing supporters the opportunity to voice their positions at the public meeting.
The program would have given 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. But the initiative would cost all customers of electricity companies.
Recently elected Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, said the cost of the program would be onerous for small businessmen.
Angelle said an analysis he requested of PSC staff showed that the average grocery store’s monthly electric bill would go up $97.95.
“Small commercial customers already pay a disproportionate load,” said Angelle, whose district includes parts of Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Houma.
PSC Commissioner Clyde Holloway, of Forest Hill, agreed: “We’re going to put another line item on the bill.”
PSC Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III, of New Orleans, pointed out that Angelle’s analysis used the most expensive rates of the state’s highest-priced utility. For instance, commercial customers of Entergy Gulf States Louisiana LLC would see a $17.52 increase in their monthly bills, he said.
Boissiere, whose district stretches up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to north Baton Rouge, said the average monthly bill for a commercial establishment using as much of the higher-priced power in Angelle’s example would be $18,272.80. The increase amounted less than 1 percent, Boissiere said.
“We haven’t asked for anything that isn’t reasonable,” Boissiere said. “We need to make Louisiana a more efficient, less wasteful state.”
Jordan Macha, associate regional organizer for the Sierra Club, said the issue was added to the PSC agenda late Friday, giving proponents only two business days’ notice of the move to abandon the program that took three years to put together. She said the plan was ready in October, but it took until December to get “energy efficiency” added to the agenda.
The energy efficiency program was the product of an alliance between consumer groups, environmentalists, privately owned utility corporations and the major manufacturers to provide discounts for many home improvements. Forty-six states already have adopted similar programs that provide incentives for consumers to install energy efficiency measures.
Macha said the issue was brought up again Wednesday because the composition of the board had changed.
In January, Angelle replaced retiring PSC Commissioner Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge. In December, Field had led the effort to establish the energy efficiency plan.
PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta, of Metairie, said proponents pushed it in December, before commissioners had a chance to study it, probably because Field was leaving the PSC.
Skrmetta and Holloway opposed the measure in December and voted, along with Angelle, to abandon the energy efficiency order on Wednesday.
Skrmetta said he had questions about the consultant’s report and recommendations. He said the consultant may have had a conflict of interest.
Skrmetta said he would ask the PSC to commission another consultant to do another report on the issue and a revamped program could be voted on again in as little as four or five months.
Casey DeMoss Roberts, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, said Skrmetta was acting speciously. The consultant was J Kennedy and Associates Inc., based in suburban Atlanta, and the PSC uses the firm for dozens of expert reports.
But what really angered her, Roberts said, that nobody was allowed to testify about the energy efficiency.
Skrmetta said he refused to allow testimony from proponents on Wednesday because the issue had been vetted in December.
Boissiere, who along with PSC Commissioner Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish, voted to keep the December order intact, said he was disturbed by Skrmetta’s decision not to allow public testimony.
“That is a huge departure for this commission,” Boissiere said. “I want the public to have a voice.”