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A million Entergy customers owe $1.4 billion for Hurricane Ida damage; here's how they'll pay

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Entergy's 1 million Louisiana customers will foot the bill for $1.4 billion more in Hurricane Ida grid repair costs after the Public Service Commission approved a compromise agreement Wednesday that reduced rate payers' immediate obligation by about $180 million.

New Commissioner Chairman Foster Campbell, D-Elm Grove, and newly-elected Baton Rouge Democrat Davante Lewis voted against the compromise deal crafted by Baton Rouge Republican Commissioner Craig Greene, but the measure passed on a 3-2 vote.

Entergy is entitled by law to recover its repair costs from rate payers.

Greene's measure allows for a tax maneuver in which rate payers will see an upfront benefit of $180 million rather than securing it over more than 20 years, placing a risk on Entergy to manage its tax burden.

"Customers see an upfront savings with Entergy getting a little dirt on their jersey; good news for everybody," Greene said.

But Campbell said he believes "there's more savings to be had" and accused Entergy officials of being disingenuous, agreeing to the compromise only after receiving pressure from the commission.

"You're not agreeing to it because you're good folks; you're doing it because you're in a jam," Campbell said.

Customers will have an average of $5.50 added to their electric bill for 23 years to pay back the $1.4 billion Entergy will secure from Wall Street.

Lewis, noting that he represents some of the poorest people in the state, said, "A $5 charge matters to them - greatly."

That's on top of an ongoing $10 monthly charge the commission approved last year for $3.2 billion in hurricane damage recovery from hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Zeta from 2020.

Retired Baton Rouge teacher Deloris Brooks told commissioners she can't afford any increase in her bill.

"Some months I don't have enough money to buy food," she said. "I should not have it so hard. It's sad that I have to suffer."

Campbell, who represents all of northern Louisiana, also repeated his refrain that his constituents shouldn't have to foot the bill for hurricanes since the storms cause the most damage in southern Louisiana.

Workers from Entergy repair damaged power lines after Hurricane Zeta in 2020.

"People in North Louisiana shouldn't have to pay the same thing as people in South Louisiana," he said. "That's not the case when you buy insurance."

Entergy Louisiana President Phillip May said the company is "accelerating" its hardening of the grid to prevent similar catastrophic damage from future storms.

"We have to think differently about infrastructure," said May, who said the company's new standard is a grid that can withstand 150 mph winds. "We have to accelerate the replacement of infrastructure instead of an after-the-fact basis," he said.

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