City Council committee debates utility bill assistance for residents

Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 6:21 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans City Council utility committee met most of the day in an effort to assist residents who are having problems with high bills from Entergy, and the Sewerage and Water Board.

The council has some new powers to help deal with chronic billing problems.

New Orleans residents dealing with a triple whammy of spiraling costs, went to the New Orleans City Council seeking relief.

“To see what is being done to the people of the city is criminal,” said resident Jesse Perkins.

Residents are dealing with exorbitant sewerage and water bills, spiraling electrical bills, and some of the highest inflation in decades.

“I’m here pleading for help for me and 9th Ward resident suffering indignity,” said Pastor Jack Batiste. He says he was unfairly billed $3500 by the sewerage and water Board and was given nowhere to turn before the agency turned his bill over to collections.

“It’s an insult to human dignity,” he said.

“I don’t think one day goes by without our office getting call about sewer and water board bills,” said Councilmember Helena Moreno.

The Council committee approved a resolution calling on the sewerage and water board to stop sending customers with delinquent bills to collection agencies, while their bills are being negotiated. They then shifted gears in an effort to address spiraling electrical costs.

“Consumers are going to eat $10 million what’s being done to help them deal with it,” said councilmember J.P. Morrell.

The Grand Gulf nuclear power plant has shut down three times this year due to everything from routine maintenance, to a lightning strike, to valve failure.

“The track record for grand gulf from 2016 to 21 is terrible,” said Clint Vince, a longtime utility consultant. Vince told the council that the nuclear plant operates at a level that is far less efficient than other nuclear plants across the country, forcing New Orleans ratepayers to have to pay much higher rates to cover electricity generated by expensive natural gas, when the plant shuts down.

“We are disappointed the plant was off-line this summer we brought people in around the clock,” said Entergy’s Bill Maguire.

The Council has approved spending $5 million in federal recovery money, to assist ratepayers with rate relief grants of up to $150, which some say is not enough.

“If New Orleans has 80,000 people living in poverty maybe 4000 people can access the $150,” said Angela Kinlaw of New Orleans.

Next week, The electricity relief money may be accessed through the United Way, but so far only a portion of that money has been made available for the fund, even though the approval came late last year.

Councilmembers are calling for Entergy stockholders to bare more of the cost of the continued shutdown of Grand Gulf. They say it is not fair to pass those higher costs onto New Orleans ratepayers who are often struggling.

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