Louisiana utility board irate over Entergy CEO's Colorado vacation during Hurricane Ida

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The chief executive of Louisiana's largest electricity utility vacationed in Vail, Colo., as Hurricane Ida ripped through the state's bayou country last summer, a holiday that clearly rankled members of the Public Service Commission that regulates the monopoly.

"Can you believe that?" said Commissioner Foster Campbell, D-Elm Grove, said in an interview with USA Today Network. "It's pitiful. It's the craziest thing I've ever heard in my life. People were without power, they were hurting, and he's taken the corporate jet to Colorado."

Campbell said Entergy CEO and Chairman Leo Denault told the PSC though he and his family flew to Vail on the corporate jet, ratepayers didn't foot the vacation jet bill.

At least some of the commissioners seemed poised to compel Entergy to share some of the burden for repairs from Ida and other storms rather than force ratepayers to foot the entire $4.5 billion bill from the hurricanes following Wednesday's Public Service Commission meeting.

"They've got no skin in the game," Campbell said. "I'm sick of the free ride they're getting."

Though current law appears to allow Entergy to recoup all of its repair costs from their 1.1 million Louisiana ratepayers, commissioners noted the company issued $3 billion in dividends to stockholders during the past two years and gave Denault a $1 million raise.

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"I think Entergy's shareholders benefit immensely from Entergy's business model in Louisiana, but I do not think Entergy's customers see those same benefits," said Commissioner Craig Greene, R-Baton Rouge, in a statement. "While Entergy's stock price has risen, dividends are increasing and executives are flying in private jets, Louisiana's reliability scores are last in the nation and Louisiana customers are paying higher bills."

Downed power lines slump over a road in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Reserve, La.

Entergy customers could see their bills rise by $18 to $20 for 15 years if the Public Service Commission approves the company's plan to recoup its storm costs.

"We need to look at different ways of doing business that better benefit utility customers," Greene said. "Customers, not shareholders, are my focus."

Campbell said when commissioners asked Denault if he would commit to sharing repair costs, he said no.

Campbell insists the elected five-member commission can require Entergy to pay part of the repair bill with a majority vote.

"There's no law that says we can't," he said. "I think the votes are there. We'll see. If we do it will be monumental."

The commission already voted to approve Entergy's plan to recoup $3.2 billion, but the company is returning later this year to ask for another $1.4 billion in reimbursements from ratepayers.

Greg Hilburn covers Louisiana politics for the USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.