BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A week after an ice storm left tens of thousands of people in Louisiana without power, the Public Service Commission pressed utility company executives about what led to the widespread outages and delayed response.
None received as much scrutiny as Entergy President and CEO Phillip May, specifically calling him to account for the lack of communication between the utility and customers.
“Y’all are a billion-dollar company with a penny club customer service and that’s not going to work anymore,” said PSC Chairman Dr. Craig Greene.
Greene said it appeared Entergy cared more about its shareholders than its customers, threatening action if the company did not improve its service.
“Y’all want high rate of returns, well let’s get a high rate of service, and maybe if you get a low rate of service you get a low rate of return,” Green said.
May explained the communication breakdown was a result of call centers Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Mississippi being short-staffed due to the winter storm, resulting in customers only being able to get a machine. The outage maps, which often displayed dated information about outages and text communications from the company explaining power was restored to a customer, despite it not, were system errors Entergy is working to correct.
“We did not meet our customer’s expectations on how we communicated and the information we provided from the storm,” May said.
During the storm, May said outages were largely caused by damage to trees and equipment. Adding to the issues, natural gas supplies were limited, the lines carrying the fuel froze, and equipment failed and the power plants.
The PSC wanted answers from May as to what led to those failures.
“Some things we did not anticipate was the extent of the shut-in from supply of natural gas, which was a problem for us,” May said. “We also had frozen transformers, sensors, and other things on our power plants that created additional issues or supply issues.”
With the storm behind Louisiana, the focus also turns to the cost of repairs to the system. Commissioner Foster Campbell made clear during the meeting Entergy should have to bear most of the cost, lowering the burden on customers.
“I know you’re not trying to, you don’t want to raise the bills because it’s going to cause problems but it’s hard to explain how natural gas went up for three days and your bill jumped double,” Campbell said.
Entergy’s May did not elaborate on how much bills could increase from the damages and increased cost of fuel for the power plants. He told the Commission it would take several weeks to tabulate the costs but he committed to trying to mitigate any increases to customers’ bills.
“We absolutely agree that we will work with the commission to ensure that the effects, these one-time effects, are not visited on customers over a single billing period,” May said.
Entergy has a month to respond to the questions and requests for information levied by the PSC.
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