We have been working hard to ensure protections in New Orleans (regulated by the NOLA City Council) and Louisiana (regulated by the LPSC). Here are all the updates since March!
On May 21, the New Orleans City Council voted to prohibit Energy New Orleans from disconnecting customers for lack of payment. This protection comes after three rounds of commitments from the utility to not shut off customers' electricity and gas. The Council’s resolution extends to July 1, but Councilmember Moreno, who is also chair of the utility committee, noted the Council’s willingness to consider an extension if necessary.
Entergy has also begun to provide payment programs to their customers through their online system. If you have a balance on your bill, Entergy now allows you to log-in to your account online and choose to spread those costs over time, up to 6 months. This should make paying down those balances much easier, one bite at a time.
This is a brand new offering, BUT please read the Terms and Conditions of this program. If you agree to use this program to smooth out the payments of your balance but you are unable to make one of the payments Entergy notes it may disconnect you with no additional written notice and you may not be able to take part in other payment plans. The Alliance is glad to see the program offered, but always make sure you know what you’re signing up for!
Finally on June 4, the Council approved a program they’ve developed to help folks pay off those balances. Using excess storm reserves and another bucket of refunds due back to Entergy New Orleans customers, the Council has directed the utility to set up a CARES-style program for residents who have lost their income during the COVID crisis. The basics of the program go something like this: If you qualify (using documentation of lost income or unemployment paperwork) you could get $100 per month credited to your account for four months. The Council’s resolution directs these credits to begin in July.
Since March we have asked the Council to formally require reporting from Entergy on the impacts of COVID on revenues, and the company’s expenditure plans for this year. Not having a clear view into these numbers makes it impossible to properly regulate the utility or develop good policy to respond to their requests. We are aware the company intends to cut some of its spending, thanks to their announcements to shareholders at their 1st quarter call, and since that’s spending that is already baked into our rates, we are insisting the Council and stakeholders know how these balance sheet changes impact your bills.
If you have questions about your energy bill, or need help navigating any of the programs that are available please feel free to reach out to us.
Also, be aware of these programs that may help with your utility bills.
Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC)
Wind power, consumer protections during COVID, and an investigation into Grand Gulf, the May Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) meeting was a big one!
The obvious victory from the LPSC meeting on May 27, 2020 was the Commission’s unanimous approval of SWEPCO’s application to buy a portion of three wind power facilities. The wind farms total up at 1,485 MW in nameplate capacity and will be shared with the Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO), SWEPCO’s sister company, both subsidiaries of AEP. SWEPCO customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas could see up to 810 MW in capacity, 268 MW for Louisiana customers. HOWEVER, the Commission went even further to approve a ‘Flex-up’ option so that if Texas fails to approve the purchase, Louisiana will get a portion of that share for a total of 464 MW of wind capacity! Not only does this mean more wind power on Louisiana’s grid, the joint settlement agreement also comes with a net benefit guarantee to ensure customers save money, as well as commitments from SWEPCO to acquire up to 200 MW in solar capacity and to explore alternatives, such as battery storage, should a gen-tie line be needed to alleviate transmission congestion near the wind facilities. Three cheers for everyone who supported these efforts!
Now onto what’s unfortunately on everyone’s mind these days: how long am I going to have to pay my electric bills that have piled up since the COVID shutdown, before they cut my power?! We hear ya. We know people are struggling and this space is not easy to navigate. A proposal on the table, ultimately deferred until the LPSC’s June meeting, now scheduled for June 24, calls for a six week ‘grace period’ whereas a utility could not disconnect you for unpaid balances accrued from March 13, 2020 through the end of Phase I. That grace period would allow for families to work out a payment plan with their utilities, develop one on their own, and/or access the much needed additional Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding from the CARES Act. Utilities would also be barred from charging late fees or accumulating interest on those unpaid balances, as well as participating in negative credit reporting on behalf of their customers. Rather, utilities would be strongly encouraged to personally reach out to their customers that may be behind on bills. That means, no threatening disconnection robocalls! After much back and forth on the appropriate length of that grace period, as well as discussion on whether or not these consumer protections go far enough, the Commission ultimately deferred the vote until their June meeting, with the caveat that utilities are still barred from disconnecting customers due to non-payment until a Commission decision can be reached on this.
Lastly, but certainly not least, the LPSC opened an investigation into the rates and performance of the Grand Gulf nuclear facility. In case you do not check the Status of Nuclear Outages daily, it hasn’t been at full capacity since Lundi Gras, which is surprisingly not surprising. Over the years it has cost Entergy customers billions of dollars and the backward deal between System Energy Resources Inc. (SERI) and Entergy even caught the attention of then Governor, Bill Clinton. More recently, the Mississippi Public Service Commission conducted a fuel audit study and determined, “Grand Gulf is an economic burden to EML [Entergy Mississippi, LLC] when running at high capacity factor and is even worse when production drops”. This investigation could uncover millions in savings for Louisiana customers, and we’re excited to see the LPSC taking a closer look into it. Although the results of this investigation are not expected any time soon, we at the Alliance will be following it closely and we’ll be sure to keep you updated!
Check out our other blog post for Information on Utility Bill Assistance