BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana utility regulators are studying ways to handle a coming increase in monthly electric bills tied to Entergy's building of new electricity generating plants, with industrial customers asking to leave the system amid worries their rates could rise as much as 50%.
The five-member Louisiana Public Service Commission unanimously directed its staff Wednesday to look at all options available, such as enlarging the use of renewable energy sources and expanding programs to help pay for making homes and businesses more energy efficient. The commission's staff also will review the implications of allowing large industrial customers to fend for themselves by seeking better electricity prices on the "open market" or letting plants and refineries make their own power.
"It is a proactive approach to make sure we maintain the customers' perspective as we look for solutions to those energy needs," said Commissioner Craig Greene of Baton Rouge.
The Advocate reports that Entergy told regulators it needs to eventually spend an estimated $10 billion to $12 billion to replace units that are approaching 50 years old. As a regulated monopoly, Entergy's customers must pay those costs. The state's largest petrochemical refineries and manufacturing plants, which buy about half the power Entergy sells, argue the projected costs are too high and they want out.
Entergy disputes the rate increase estimates calculated by the Louisiana Energy Users Group, which encompasses 24 of the largest companies operating in the state.
"We have some of the lowest rates in the country thanks to the PSC's oversight. We will continue to focus on balancing access to affordable, reliable energy for all of our customers," Entergy spokeswoman Lee Sabatini said in statement.
The PSC directive looking at all options could reopen a debate from the 1980s and 1990s about whether Louisiana should deregulate and allow customers to buy their electricity from whomever they want on the open market. The commission in 1999 ruled that because of the cost of the infrastructure needed to deliver electricity, customers would be better served by letting utilities to operate as monopolies - with no competition allowed in specific service areas - and to regulate the costs.