Skyrocketing energy bill costs have residents perplexed

A year ago, Michelle Guidry’s energy bill averaged between $175 to $225 during the summer months, and that seems like an eternity ago for the Montz resident.

The higher of those two numbers still falls nearly $500 short of the $693.85 her last bill required. It’s the kind of increase that’s left Guidry, many of her neighbors and countless others in South Louisiana adjusting their budgets and hoping for some kind of reprieve – and soon.

“We’ve cut back on eating out and we’ve opted not to take a family vacation this year,” Guidry said. “With our kids back in school, hopefully that brings a noticeable difference … but our bill has never been this high.”

Guidry and her family are in plentiful company in that regard.

Gina Fahrig of Bayou Gauche notes her last bill totaled over $900. That was an approximate increase of $200 over the $700 sum her last bill required, something that’s left her confused due to her family’s recent home usage, or lack thereof. Fahrig said the family have primarily been living in a camper and not the home itself.

“I do have a portable unit running in living room for our dogs and one in my son’s room because his room is fine, but there’s no central A/C running,” said Fahrig. “I know those two units and the camper can’t draw that much electricity. We aren’t even home during the day.”

Fahrig said the family has been proactive in trying to reduce their electrical usage, including the addition of solar panels recently, but to date it seems to have had no positive effect.

“You’d think it would drive the cost down and not up,” she said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but maybe they could offer credits instead of raising the different charges for areas seriously impacted by Ida.”

That significant impact dealt upon St. Charles Parish by Hurricane Ida stands as a major catalyst for the higher costs while simultaneously a critical reason why many local residents are perhaps more vulnerable to those increases than ever.

The Public Service Commission, which regulates most Louisiana insurance companies, notes that three driving forces have been behind the increased billing:

*Energy charge and usage, the portion of the bill in which the utility draws a profit and covers the costs of running utilities and maintaining systems. The average residential electric rate for Louisiana was 12.5 cents per kilowatt hour in July, up from 10.4 cents in July of last year, according to the Public Service Commission.

*Fuel adjustment charges, related to the cost of fuel. Decreased oil and gas production have led to a spike in the cost of natural gas in the U.S. This is considered the largest factor in the increase of energy costs, according to the commission. It’s led to a jump from 3.4 cents per kilowatt hour in 2021 to 5.5 cents in 2022, according to the commission’s data.

*Storm restoration charges. For the hurricanes of 2020 and 2021, these fees will be in place for 15 years.

Last week, Entergy extended a bill relief program originally directed toward seven parishes to all eligible residents in Louisiana. Applications can be filled out through Entergy’s website.

All of the aforementioned factors are real, but it comes as little solace to residents footing a very ramped up bill.

“I used to be on level billing, but it went from $120 to consistently over $200 in six months, so I switched back to know what I was paying for,” said Christi Plaisance of Destrehan, who’s last bill was $666. “I called Entergy and asked them to come read the meter, because it’s digital, and they told me it was the hottest month on record, that it was correct and that I could go online to read how much energy I use by the hour.

“I told him the devil himself sent that $666 bill,” she added with a laugh.

Plaisance said the increase won’t break their family, but that it remains frustrating, and she emphasizes with many who may be dealing with significant financial struggles due to this.

“I don’t know how people living paycheck to paycheck are able to survive,” she said.

Cherie Barcia of Luling does utilize level billing – a method to spread costs relatively equally over 12 months –  for her Entergy payment plan, which has left her payments in the $400-$500 range over the past few months. Without the level billing, her next bill will require over $650 to pay the balance.

“Make it make sense,” Barcia said. “It’s ridiculous to pay this much. I’m paying Entergy about $6000 a year at this point.”

Barcia’s bill ranged from $104 to $179 from August of 2020 to February of 2021. The costs began increasing from there, in excess of $400 per month beginning in the summer of last year.

 

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