Proposed contract could save City Light $6 million

DEIDRE CRUSE

Plaquemine city officials are pressing on in negotiations for an electrical contract that would save the city and its utility customers $6 million over the five-year life of the proposed contract.

The Board of Selectmen last week agreed to give the Louisiana Power and Energy Authority (LEPA) the require eight-month notice that the city would no longer buy its supplies through them.

Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta said the city would remain a member of LEPA, and that the statewide consortium of cities would continue to spend $1 million a year operating the local power plant “as log as it’s economically feasible to do it.”

And, the city could choose to continue to buy its power supplies through LEPA, if a new contract with CLECO or RNG does not work out, the mayor said.

Of the three, only LEPA has an approved arrangement to use Entergy transmission lines to transport its supplies to the city.

The contract negotiations are continuing during the highest power consumption in the city’s history, Gulotta said. With temperatures in the upper 90s, the city hit new peak loads last week, as late as 7 p.m.; usually, usage spikes between 2 and 4 p.m., he said.

The good news is that electricity prices are far lower than they were last summer.

“We’re better off this year than last year simply because those wholesale costs are [down] 60 percent,” the mayor told the city council last Tuesday. “All savings are passed on.”

Last summer, the city pad nearly 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to five cents per kwh in June, he said.

LEPA was able to lock in 50 percent of the city’s summer supplies with natural gas prices at $4 per thousand cubic feet (mcf), Gulotta said.

Natural gas, used to fire electrical generation plants, was around $13 per mcf in June 2008.

Although last year was City Light & Water’s highest grossing year, it was a bad year for the city financially, Gulotta said.

“Basically, we were collecting all that money and sending it off to a gas company,” he said.

Gulotta urged customers to “be sure to watch your consumption.” Residents need to leave their air conditioners on at a high level even when they are away from home to save strain on their air conditioners and their utility bills, he said.

Customers who run into trouble paying their bills can meet with Monika Edwards, who handles customer relations for city light, to work out payment plans.

“When you walk into Monika’s office, we’re going to help you,” the mayor said, adding that residents don’t have to “know anybody” to get the service.

Last week, Gulotta presented the Iberville Council on Aging a check for $4,800 for Operation Care, a program to help the elderly with their utility bills.

Selectman Ralph Stassi Jr.’s A contribution of $200 a month from the city paycheck of Selectman Ralph Stassi Jr. made up the largest amount of the donations, Gulotta said. City employees and customers contributed the rest. Entergy matches the city funds.

The Board of Selectmen gave a unanimous second to Gulotta’s idea to donate all the proceeds from a city daiquiri booth at the 4th of July event. Gulotta said he is trying to get all the supplies donated.

In other action, the city council accepted the low bid for the construction of a new electrical distribution line with streetlights for the planned Enterprise Boulevard South between Bayou and Belleview roads.

The lowest of three bids, from Ernest P. Breaux Electrical of New Iberia, was $65,600, which Gulotta said was $35,000 under budget.

At long last, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to give the city a permit to cross the Mississippi River levee with a new sewer main, engineer Tony Arikol of Professional Engineering Consultants (PEC) reported.

“After two years, it’s here,” Arikol said.

The new main will direct the effluent from its sewage treatment plants away from Bayou Plaquemine and into the Mississippi River.

The change is intended to help the city comply with its state environmental permits. Ultimately, the new main could be connected to a proposed regional sewage treatment plant.

The city council already has sold bonds to pay for the project, but nevertheless has applied for a low interest loan – at 0.95 percent interest – offered by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Arikol said that application is still pending, but newly issued rules likely would hold up the project.

“I’m not going to sit around here for another year,” said Selectman Oscar Mellion, whose district includes the troubled South Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Mayor Gulotta said if the city has a chance to get a grant from federal recovery funds, the city “might hold back a little bit.”

But he said he hopes the project could be bid in August or September.