Plaq. electrical usage, bills down this month

Deidre Cruse

Electricity use dropped by a third, and that will be reflected in the lower bills that will be mailed out this week, Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta said Monday.

“Usage dropped tremendously,” the mayor said, and prices will be down somewhat, as well.

City Light & Water bills usually are sent out by the first of each month, but were delayed because storm debris blocked many of the meters, Gulotta said.

“It’s simply not true that they were held up because of the election,” he said, addressing a rumor going around before Saturday’s election.

Gulotta said he was continuing to negotiate for a contract with a local plant that wants to sell the city lower-cost electricity produced with waste gas. He said he got new information on the proposed contract on Friday and had a meeting scheduled on Wednesday to discuss it.

“We’re still in the negotiating stages,” the mayor said. “I don’t know how it’s gong to end up.”

Currently, the city buys its power from the Louisiana Energy and Power Authority (LEPA) but has to have it sent here over Entergy transmission lines. Entergy has delayed three proposed lower-cost electrical contracts long enough to scuttle them, Gulotta has said.

With the proposed contract with an as yet unnamed local plant, the city could build its own transmission lines.

The good news of the moment is that the city’s bill from the Louisiana Energy and Power Authority (LEPA) was $1 million for this month, down from $1.5 million last month, the mayor said.

Natural gas prices had sent the cost of power purchased from LEPA to 13.6 cents a kilowatt hour (kwh), he said; the power reflected on the September bill was purchased at 10 cents per kwh.

“The city tacks on three cents [a kwh], regardless of what the bill is,” he said, to operate City Light & Water.

The high electricity bills sent out in September – some ranging as high as $700 to $1,200 for summer month’s use – was an issue in Gulotta’s bid for a fifth term as mayor. He narrowly defeated former city business manager James A. “Jimmy” Ramirez.

“There definitely was a scare over utility bills,” Gulotta said in an interview Monday. “I know the bills are high -- there’s no doubt about that – but there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

He cited as examples of misinformation rumors that his bill was $28 for the month, that residents in some areas were charged at higher rates than others and that Entergy’s rates are a lot cheaper than the city’s.

“There’s a bad misconception that we’re higher than everybody else,” he said.

This months bills should be out one day this week, Gulotta said. He said he hoped the city would be back on schedule with its meter reading by next month.

“We’ve had tough times reading meters this month,” he said. “There has been a lot of debris in the way. We’ve had to estimate some electrical bills and some water bills.”

A number of commercial customers lost their specialized electrical meters to the storm, Gulotta said, adding that those had to be estimated.

At residences, the main problems have been with gaining access to gas and water meters, he said.

He cautioned that people who used natural gas to power generators during the storm probably will pay $120 a day, and possibly more, for that.

“There are no true estimates how many people did it that way,” he said. “If they had used [gasoline], they were spending $100 a day.”