Casey DeMoss Roberts
Commissioner Skrmetta recently published an article in several news sources across Louisiana explaining his recent move at the Public Service Commission. His action to overturn Louisiana’s recently adopted energy efficiency (EE) law was strongly criticized by two of the most reputable conservative publications in the nation – Bloomberg Business Week and Forbes – who pointed out that our state is far behind the rest of the nation in bringing cost saving programs to customers. Skrmetta makes a valiant effort at damage control but the facts speak for themselves. He took advantage of his new position as Chair to protect utility profits over consumers in an unprecedented procedural move that violated Robert’s Rules of Order, sidelined the public, and made a circus of the democratic process.
In his article, the Chair cries “conflict of interest” as many times as the boy who cried “Wolf!” For example, Skrmetta’s ad hominem attack on the Forbes reporter misses the mark completely. Phase I of the energy efficiency program will only be using well-established measures that would exclude ClearEdge’s cutting-edge tech. This strawman attack against the reputation of credible sources is a tactic Skrmetta uses often, applying the label to anyone who disagrees with him. In regards to real conflict of interest, he fails to mention that as a sitting Commissioner he accepts campaign money from the very utility companies the PSC is supposed to police.
Bad Management is Bad for Business
Skrmetta stated that he voted for the EE rules just to bring them back up for a vote in accordance with Robert’s Rules. The problem is Robert’s Rules state clearly that for an issue to be reconsidered it must be brought up at the very next meeting, which would have been January not February (Rule #36). Not only did he wait until the rules had been enacted into law, he delayed two months to call for reconsideration. Businesses, the Utilities, and PSC staff had already begun work on implementing the law. As Chair, he used his authority to deny the public their right to comment prior to the vote, over the objections of Commissioners Boissiere and Campbell, and in violation of state open meeting laws.
Bizarre and Outlandish Claims
Claim: “a large bureaucracy will be created.”
FACT: False. The rules did not create any new government agency.
Claim: “That was only Phase 1, and there is no knowing how many other phases would be sought.”
FACT: False. The rules are explicitly clear that this is a 2-phase process with a perfectly apparent purpose. Phase I is the quick start phase, which is a small investment that enables the utilities to design, implement, and refine energy efficiency programs before ramping up to provide even deeper savings in Phase II. The second phase builds on this foundation while creating a process for establishing long-term program goals and giving all the stakeholders time to work out issues like Utility compensation for lost revenue and how to treat large industrial users.
Claim: “These third party administrators will select high efficiency appliances to advertise through your utility bill.”
FACT: False. This claim has no basis in reality.
Claim: Industrial users are 78% of the state’s electricity output.
FACT: False. From the federal Energy Information Administration:
Protecting Ratepayers Should Be Job #1
Skrmetta fundamentally fails to grasp how or why regulators create utility EE programs. The rules were based on tried and true methods that have consistently saved customers money all across the country. Not spending money on energy efficiency comes at a significant cost because ratepayers are forced to buy more expensive supply resources. Even customers who never participate in the program will save money. The fact is each year of PSC inaction on energy efficiency costs ratepayers millions of dollars in higher bills.
In December 2012, the PSC legally voted for energy efficiency over Skrmetta’s strongly worded and repeated objections. Visibly incensed after the vote and in front of twenty plus witnesses, he yelled at me while pointing his finger “Enjoy your victory while it lasts. I’ll have three votes come January!” Frankly, I did not believe (and still do not) that our new Commissioner, Scott Angelle, is in Skrmetta’s pocket. I believe now that Comm. Angelle looked to Skrmetta for guidance and was badly misled on this issue.
The national criticism should be cause for concern because Forbes is correct. When you are one of the very last states to implement cost saving programs, you are a luddite. Louisiana has cheap electric rates, but in spite of that we still have some of the highest electricity bills. Comm. Field was right to want to vote for the policy he championed for more than three years. Jimmy Field was known for being fair and balancing the conflicting needs of ratepayers and the utilities. He left some big shoes to fill.
Click here for a copy of the energy efficiency rules passed in December.
Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Executive Director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a Louisiana-based utility watchdog group. Since 1985, the Alliance has stood for protecting consumers and lowering energy bills through sound regulatory policy, while promoting utility transparency, good government, and decreasing pollution on Louisiana citizens.