The Alliance submitted a questionnaire to candidates in the run-off for New Orleans City council, which will take place this Saturday, March 15. Jason Williams responded to the questions below.
Q. New Orleans is the only city with independent regulatory authority over an investor owned utility, with the rest of the state regulated by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. Should the Council continue to protect their unique role as energy regulators? If yes, why? If not, why not?
A. The City Council of New Orleans should continue its independent role as energy regulators using the best practices to efficiently and affordably deliver energy to its consumers. The City Council cannot deny Entergy New Orleans is its largest corporate partner employing more citizens of New Orleans than any other corporation. However, we must remain diligent in our oversight to protect the interest of all rate payers especially those with limited resources. As a matter of good governance the Council should collaborate with the Louisiana Public Service Commission to share exchangeable resources and industry trends to improve these measures in every possible manner.
Q. The City Council will be deciding how many New Orleans citizens and businesses may participate in Energy Smart over the next 3 years. How much growth would you like to see? Are there other improvements to the program you would advocate for?
A. There should be no limit to the growth of or accessibility to the Energy Smart Program for all residents and businesses of New Orleans. The rollout of the Energy Smart Program should begin with low income residents and emerging businesses before branching out to more affluent homes and sustainable businesses, but access to the program should be available to all.
Q. In recent years, New Orleans has seen some of the nation’s fastest growth in residential solar and is second in the nation on number of solar systems per capita. Nationally, Utility companies are fighting the growth of solar to protect their market share. Do you believe New Orleans should continue to grow this local industry and increase investment in clean energy? If yes, what would you do as a City Council member to help foster the growth of renewable energy? If not, why not?
A. Yes, New Orleans should grow the local solar industry and increase its investment in clean energy. As a City Council at Large Member, I will push the growth of the solar industry to include back up batteries to store power the customer retrieve when solar is not available. The current system does not allow the customer to store energy for later use forcing the consumer to use Entergy as its only power source once solar access stops. Storing power for later use can greatly reduce recovery cost related to natural and other disaster.
Q. In your opinion is there enough community engagement with respect to policy decisions concerning Entergy and how it functions as the sole utility for the city? If not, how would you encourage stakeholder engagement?
A. There is not enough community engagement with respect to policy decisions concerning Entergy and how it functions. The primary reason is the failure to properly educate the community on the functions of the Utility Committee, their meeting schedule and the understanding that proposed changes are voted on at City Council meetings.
Q. Every family and business is affected by utility regulation and energy policy decisions through the energy bills they pay each month. Due to the highly technical issues involved in overseeing a monopoly utility, the City Council (like all utility regulators) must spend money for staff, consultants, and expenses to fulfill their regulatory duties – a cost of several million dollars also paid by customers. What factors do you feel are most important in determining how much to spend, and how to spend the money used to fulfill the Council’s regulatory duties and effectively protect the public interest?
A. The factors most important in determining how a monopoly utility spends its resources are similar to that of a public office. I believe resources dedicated to staff should also include training and professional development. Investment in your staffs professional growth pays direct dividends in their personal growth. I would consent to the use of consultants where the staff skill set prove lacking making the use of subject matter experts necessary. With the use of consultants I would insist on measures of accountability including but not limited to delivery of intellectual property to be institutionalized into company practices.
Q. After Hurricane Katrina, electricity and natural gas rates rose steeply in New Orleans. Although it has been reduced in recent years, over the past 3 months it has risen at an alarming rate and is projected to do so through 2015. Entergy is anticipating a rate increase request this year. What approach should the Council take during the next term to control costs and keep energy affordable for New Orleans?
A. The Council should require review of systems efficiencies with Entergy before granting rate increases. Every public utility even those that are investor owned should prove its systems and operational efficiencies prior to placing rate increases on the consumer. Once a rate increase is deemed necessary the Utility Committee should work with Entergy to determine the increments of the rate increase to lessen the potential hardship on the consumer.
Q. The cost of energy is broader that just what we pay on our utility bill each month. The City Council’s decisions on energy sources have long-term implications for our health and environment. What do you feel are the most significant environmental issues related to the Council’s energy policy decisions and should pollution and public health be addressed when making decisions on energy sources? If yes, how? If not, why not?
A. The Council’s Energy Policy seems to lack any reference to environmental issues. If new construction of power plants is a part of improving energy efficiency the Council should demand information on potential health or environmental compromises. The Council serves on the front line of constituent advocacy. Therefore, it is paramount that the Council require all public utilities to produce information on how their actions affect the environment, pollution and public health. We must investigate the use of cleaner energy as a measure of public safety.
Q. On November 1, 2013, President Obama signed into effect an executive order on Climate Change — the Plan is intended to reduce domestic carbon emissions 17% by 2020. If States do not comply with the 17% goal on emissions they risk losing money from the Federal Government for critical infrastructure (bridges, highways, etc.) New Orleans is uniquely vulnerable to severe storms and sea level rise caused by global warming. What responsibility does our city, and more specifically our city leadership, have on this issue? If you agree that the City Council has a responsibility, what steps would you take for our community and demonstrate meaningful action?
A. Absolutely the City Council has a responsibility to take every measure to comply with President Obama’s Executive Order on Climate Change. The City of New Orleans cannot afford to compromise any federal funding for infrastructure improvements. Historically Governor Jindal has pushed back on Executive Orders, Regulations and even Resources coming from President Obama. This is where the City of New Orleans retaining regulatory authority over the investor owned energy company, Entergy New Orleans proves most advantages. The Council must rely on its Federal representation in the Senate and Congress to assure the resources are available to comply with this Executive Order with or without support for the current Governor’s administration’s involvement.
Q. Years before the Public Service Commission took similar action, the New Orleans City Council created and funded the Energy Smart energy efficiency programs and called for a 20 year energy plan that would bring more transparency to decisions affecting the construction of new power plants and future investments in efficiency and renewable energy. Should New Orleans continue to set new policies and take action ahead of the Public Service Commission? If yes, what policy areas should New Orleans be leading? If not, why not.
A. As reliable, accessible, cleaner, renewable energy comes available the Council must continue to set polices and take action ahead of the Public Service Commission. With New Orleans continuing with recovery efforts from the named storms of the past 8 years, we must create policies that institutionalize best practices, lessons learned and industry trends that are proven to increase efficiency and affective energy.