Feb. 28, 2013 05:51

The commission voted 3-2 to abandon the previously approved program plans, without allowing any public testimony before the vote.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's utility regulators Wednesday shelved plans for a statewide energy efficiency program, only two months after backing the idea.

The change of one member of the Public Service Commission in the latest election was enough to reverse course. The commission voted 3-2 to abandon the previously approved program plans, without allowing any public testimony before the vote.

New PSC member Scott Angelle, who took his seat in January, said he's concerned about the program's cost for small businesses, because utility companies would be able to charge their customers for energy efficiency initiatives.

"I think there is an absolute value to energy efficiency in the state. I want to work with stakeholders to get there, but I don't believe that this is the appropriate way to do it," said Angelle, of Breaux Bridge.

Supporters of the program said any costs to utility customers would be more than offset by the rate savings because of efficiencies created in the way power is delivered and used.

"That's savings to consumers they just took away," said Casey DeMoss Roberts, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy.

PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta, of Metairie, who voted to scrap the program plans, said the commission would study the idea and return with a new approach that won't "end up costing people needlessly."

He said the PSC would choose another consultant to review similar programs in other states and hold technical hearings about ideas. He didn't provide a timeline for the review.

Since the program was approved in December, the PSC membership changed. Angelle replaced retiring PSC Commissioner Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge, who led the last vote agreeing to establish the energy efficiency program.

Angelle said he asked for details about the program and was disturbed by estimates that showed an average grocery store could pay up to $98 per month in a utility bill add-on to participate in the energy efficiency program.

PSC member Lambert Boissiere III, of New Orleans, noted that the average monthly electric bill for a grocery store of the size Angelle was discussing topped $18,000. Boissiere said the add-on to the utility bill would be a less than 1 percent increase.

He said in the long-term, the energy efficiency program would save businesses money by lowering their utility use and he said 46 other states have embraced similar programs.

"We haven't asked for anything that isn't reasonable," Boissiere said. "We need to make Louisiana a more efficient, less wasteful state."

Skrmetta, Angelle and Commissioner Clyde Holloway voted to abandon the energy efficiency plan, while Boissiere and Commissioner Foster Campbell voted to keep it in place.

Skrmetta refused to allow new testimony on the issue, saying that had all been done in previous PSC hearings.

After the meeting, he said he didn't feel as though the commission had received enough information about the energy efficiency plans, and he said the consultant who worked on the proposal appeared to have a conflict of interest.

Jordan Macha, with the Sierra Club and a supporter of the now-scrapped plan, said the entire rehearing was handled in a sneaky fashion, added by Skrmetta to a supplemental agenda two business days before the meeting and with no opportunity for public comment.