Energy use soars with temperatures

Deidre Cruse

With the heat index soaring as high as 110 degrees, Plaquemine City Light and Water customers hit a new peak in electrical use last Tuesday, Mayor mark A. “Tony” Gulotta said.

The good news is that prices are low this summer, and there is enough power available in this area to meet the demand.

The city hit a new peak of 27,400 megawatts, up from a previous high of 26,700, Gulotta said.

Wholesale electricity prices, however, have been at six cents a kilowatt this summer, with City Light customers paying a retail price of 9.5 cents, the mayor said.

“Three years ago, in 2008, the wholesale price coming to us was over 14 cents,” he said.

The difference is low natural gas prices this summer, he said; natural gas, used to produce some 80 percent of city’s electricity, has been selling at between $4 and $4.50 per thousand cubic feet (mcf).

The new high level of use will mean the city will have to pay a higher “demand charge” to the Louisiana Power and Energy Authority (LEPA) to have the peak power available at any given time.

“The new peak will cost us more money,” Gulotta said. “LEPA will only charge us 75 percent of it.”

So far, supplies have been plentiful.

“There have been emergencies on the [electrical] grid, but not in our area,” the mayor said.

Last week, LEPA resorted to operating the City of Plaquemine's power plant, an older, inefficient facility, to help meet the demand.

Part of the city's contract with the energy consortium is for LEPA to maintain and, when necessary, operate the outdated plant.

Gulotta, who chairs the LEPA board this year, said he is worried about the cost of electricity next summer if proposed federal rules aimed at cutting nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions go through.

The proposed rules could require the state to down coal-fired electrical generating plants, the mayor said.

Twenty percent of the power LEPA provides to the city is from a coal-fired plant.

“That makes natural gas electricity a lot more expensive,” Gulotta said.

And, he said, it could mean electrical production from small like the Plaquemine plant.

“They are less efficient so you get more NOx for the same power,” the mayor said. “Coal is the most energy efficient, cheapest electricity on the market today.”

Later this month, Gulotta said he would attend a class in New Orleans to learn more about the proposed rule.

Louisiana is one of 26 states that would be required to cut NOx, a component of ozone pollution.