(WAFB) - Answering the outcry from some customers about the recent higher than normal storm restoration fee, Entergy said Friday the fee actually saves their customers money in the long run.
The fee, coupled with high utility usage during recent cold snaps, has resulted in sticker shock for many customers as they opened their most recent bill. Entergy says it has some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation, but the company frequently enjoys a healthy profit, taking in a $398 million profit in the third quarter of 2017 alone, up from a $388 million profit in the same quarter of 2016.
The company said Friday it's working with customers who currently have high bills to set up payment arrangements that could allow them more time to pay. In some cases, that might mean a few extra days, but it could also mean spreading payments over several months. A recording at Entergy's toll-free customer service line Friday afternoon said the current wait time to speak to someone about payment arrangements exceeded 20 minutes.
The storm restoration fee is assessed on the monthly bills of Entergy customers across Louisiana and go up or down depending on monthly usage, the company said.
Tony Martin, an Entergy customer from Tangipahoa Parish, said Thursday he usually pays about $7 per month for the fee, but it jumped up to more than $25 on his latest bill. "Where is all the money going to?" he asked.
Entergy says the fee covers the replacement of power lines and poles after catastrophic storms, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav. Entergy does not pay for insurance on their poles and lines, saying the cost for that type of insurance is extremely high and would actually result in higher monthly rates for its customers. Instead, when catastrophic storms hit the state, Entergy says it recoups the money it spends to replace damaged lines by collecting the storm restoration fee from customers.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) agrees insurance would be too costly and has approved the fee. The PSC says it regularly audits Entergy to make sure the money being collected is being properly used. PSC Commissioner Dr. Craig Greene said this week the commission has started instructing all power companies in the state to put more money in reserve for such emergencies.
Entergy Customer Service Director Sheila Pounders says Entergy does have a "rainy day fund," but it quickly becomes depleted during catastrophic events. The current Entergy storm restoration fee covers damages caused during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Ike and Gustav in 2008, and Isaac in 2012. The fees related to Katrina and Rita are due to drop off bills later this year. That will reduce the fee by about half, Entergy says. The fees related to Ike and Gustav are set to expire in 2022 and Isaac fees are set to expire in 2026, unless they are paid off sooner.
Pounders says Entergy is currently "working with customers to provide them with personalized payment arrangements" for consumption during the recent below-freezing temperatures. Customers wishing to set up payment arrangements can call the company at 1-800-ENTERGY (1-800-368-3749).
Assistance for low-income customers is also available through various Council on Aging offices and a federally-funded program known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
EBR Council on Aging Director Tasha Clark-Amar says their office works in conjunction with the Salvation Army to assist some households with up to $600 per year in utility expenses. She says funding is currently available for those who qualify. Amar says those wanting to apply must provide certain items, such as proof of financial hardship and a disconnect notice from a utility company. More information on the EBR Parish program can be found here or by calling 225-923-8000.
Entergy offered the following internet links for customers needing assistance with paying bills: