Will Utility Bills Ever Be Affordable Again?

Photo source: Danae Columbus

When it comes to Entergy and the increasingly onerous rates they are currently charging the citizens of New Orleans, some say it’s all about greed and the almighty dollar. Luckily, the New Orleans City Council is fighting hard to force more equity and accountability from Entergy New Orleans (ENO) while they plan for new options. 

“While we cannot predict the future, I am doing everything in my power and using every tool in the box to bring rates down,” said Council Vice President J.P. Morrell who chairs the Council’s Utilities Committee. “The Council is scheduled to vote on a shutoff moratorium and a suspension of late fees this Thursday, August 4. The goal here is to give customers some breathing room and time to catch-up on their bills.  Also, the Council will use this time to comb the books for any other funds available to mitigate rising costs. Finally during the August 10 joint committee meeting, the committee will receive an update on the pending litigation involving Grand Gulf (nuclear power plant) and why that litigation will be crucial to efforts to lower utility bills,” Morrell continued.

Although ENO only exists to serve the city’s ongoing needs for reliable utilities, Entergy’s first obligation appears to be their investors and not the struggling ratepayers. Entergy’s board of directors sets the overall guidelines and their staff – including ENO President Deanna Rodriguez – try (usually not too successfully) to keep their regulator – the New Orleans City Council – happy. 

ENO is blaming skyrocketing bills on greater utilization of air conditioning, higher natural gas prices, and increased costs of generating electricity. Their failure to keep Grand Gulf fully operational has also had a detrimental effect. Entergy recently established a $10 million fund to assist residential customers across their system who are in need.  They did not establish the fund out of the kindness of their hearts. The City Council demanded action and ENO complied. 

“In addition to our litigation efforts, citizens will see at the August 10 committee meeting that the Council is proposing reliability standards for ENO,” Morrell said. “I get calls from customers and other councilmembers about inexplicable outages.  This is just a slap in the face to customers and to the Council, especially as we experience these rising bills. We concluded a docket and prudence investigation into Entergy New Orleans’ distribution system that resulted in a $1 million fine. So, these standards will give us another tool to hold ENO accountable and ensure that customers are getting the serve they are paying for.”  

This City Council, as a whole, is much more aggressive against ENO’s operating practices than any previous council. For decades associates of councilmembers have also served as well-paid advisers to Entergy which provided a disincentive for the councilmembers to take on the utility company. Should the public be concerned that Entergy hires multiple consultants and won’t disclose who they are and how much they earn? “Yes, I’m concerned too,” said Morrell. “The Council has previously requested that ENO disband their advisory board, and they have not. But the Council does require ENO to send us a report of their outside consultants twice a year.  That not only holds ENO accountable but also hold the Council accountable to ensure that we are not accepting campaign funds from firms on that list,” he explained. 

Though the City Council regulates Entergy New Orleans there is still work done on the city’s behalf at the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC). Metro New Orleans’ representative on the LPSC is currently Lambert Boissiere III who is currently up for re-election. “The Council and the LPSC have a good working relationship. I mean there’s always room for improvement, but we are constantly monitoring what happens at LPSC meeting and our staffs share information so that we can collaborate whenever possible. 

After tomorrow’s expected unanimous vote on the disconnect moratorium, citizens will enjoy a small breather, a temporary solution. Yet, New Orleans won’t get any long term relief until our elected officials identify and put in place innovative solutions that change our reliance on fossil fuels.         

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