Entergy Louisiana executives revealed Wednesday that customers could see a storm recovery charge of about $11 on their monthly bills for 15 years to help offset costs due to the unprecedented number of storms in Louisiana over the last two years. The figure is a preliminary estimate that still needs to go through an assessment and approval by the Louisiana Public Service Commission.
Entergy Louisiana CEO Phillip May and Vice President Mark Kleehammer released the estimate at the Public Service Commission meeting Wednesday, which they attended to seek permission to take out a $1 billion loan that will cover part of the utility company’s recovery costs. The commissioners approved the request without objection but some of them were more upset about it than others.
“This will provide an opportunity for us to have additional cash in so we can pay creditors, the folks that show up to help put the lines up and so forth,” May said. “Those invoices are continuing to come in. This will help to pay for that, and as we continue that will put us in a better financial position. That said, we are still woefully short of where we need to be in terms of recovering these costs. So there’s still some work to do here.”
May said the multiple storms in Louisiana over the last two years have cost the company an estimated $4 billion to $4.4 billion in damages. That includes damages from Hurricane Ida, Winter Storm Uri and the 2020 hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta.
District 4 Commissioner Mike Francis, who represents southwest Louisiana, was empathetic toward the company’s financial situation.
“Well this commission is very conscious of your credit lines and what a strain we’ve had on it, and we’re here with you to help you,” Francis said. “Just let’s keep staying informed. I know there’ll be some other needs coming in the future, and I appreciate the work y’all are doing. It’s been a — really been a tough job to keep the lights on, but I thank you for what you’ve done.”
However, District 5 Commissioner Foster Campbell, who represents northern Louisiana, told the Entergy executives that not everyone feels the same way.
“First of all, I appreciate what you did to get people’s lights on. I know it was devastating. I’m not making light of that,” Campbell said. “You got any idea, when we wind up, how much you’re going to have to raise people’s rates? You got any idea what it’s going to cost a month to pay for this? Because, hey, everybody’s not in love with y’all. You know that, don’t you? Everybody’s not on your side. There’s a lot of people who think that y’all have a lot of waste and this and that and the other.”
Kleehammer responded that high-level estimates would put the monthly cost at up to $15 per month for 15 years, but he said securing a low-interest loan would reduce that down to about $11 per month.
“The precedent for what we saw in the last two storm seasons, there is no precedent for that in the entire history of this industry,” Kleehammer said.
Campbell and the Entergy executives then discussed federal grants and other sources of money that Entergy could receive from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden signed into law Monday. Louisiana is slated to receive about $7 billion.
Campbell asked the executives if they should have more intensely lobbied Louisiana’s congressional delegation because most of them voted against it.
“In all due respect for everybody in this room, we’ve been through a hell of a year and we need all the help we can get,” Campbell said. “Let me see if I can say it the softest way I can say it. We ought to all be pulling together to put Louisiana back, and I commend Senator (Bill) Cassidy for trying and Congressman (Troy) Carter. It troubles me how all the hell we’re in and you can’t get these (other) guys to help you get this money down here to get these peoples’ houses back straight and their lives back straight.”
May said Entergy will continue to work with Congress to get any relief available that can go to customers.
Jessica Hendricks, state policy director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, said she is concerned with how residents will afford such an increase on their power bills and has questions about the level of maintenance Entergy was doing on the electrical infrastructure before the storms.
“We have a lot of concerns about how people are going to pay these bills,” Hendricks said. “I also have some questions regarding the degree of the equipment. What shape was this equipment in when we faced these storms? I have questions about how reliable and resilient that equipment was in the first place.”
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