By Danae Columbus, opinion columnist
Understanding utility regulations is like playing chess. There are lots of parts and pieces – some players can control and others they cannot. Making the wrong move can lead to expensive consequences for consumers. Many New Orleanians have been perplexed by the ever-changing fuel adjustment charges and other unanticipated costs that appear on their monthly bill.
What’s a customer to do? After the demise of NOPSI, the City Council gave Entergy New Orleans the legal right to supply the city with reliable, affordable gas and electric power so that homes and businesses are relatively cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Entergy New Orleans is also a business that has a financial obligation to its investors to turn a profit. While the partnership between Entergy and the city should be based on transparency and accountability, the almighty dollar often gets in the way.
After Katrina many consumers bought energy-efficient light bulbs, fixtures, appliances and windows. Was that always enough to help control energy costs? President Biden’s proposed Energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, is talking about creating more renewable energy as a way to expand state economies. While the concept sounds progressive, how many local homeowners would be able to afford solar panels or other pricey innovations?
Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno says she will hold a meeting of the Utilities Committee next week to discuss recent utility bills hikes and the various costs associated with them. The council — and the public — needs a clear roadmap on what the basic costs are; how factors like inclement weather, transmission lines or broken equipment alter the equation; and what can be done long-term to stabilize monthly rates. Then Entergy and the council should communicate those variants to the public over and over again until they sink in.
Councilwoman Moreno has always held Entergy’s feet to the fire. With the multiple changes that COVID-19 has already brought — and will continue to bring — to everyone’s lives, it is even more important that citizens know what to expect from their utility company. Now is not the time to begin disconnecting customers who have fallen behind in payments. A new long-range plan is in order with lots of tweaking along the way.
Though the City Council enjoys considerable sway over Entergy, there are many aspects of the overall utilities picture that neither the council nor Entergy controls. New Orleans is now at the mercy of outside factors, including the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, the supplier through which New Orleans receives much of the city’s electric power. The public needs to know that, too. In the end, an honest, stronger but more flexible working relationship geared toward utilizing technological innovations and instituting future cost-savings measures is necessary to best serve the ratepayers. Hopefully the council will move closer to that goal next week.
CARTER PETERSON TARGETS WOMEN VOTERS; KEVA LANDRUM STAYING NEUTRAL
With early voting in the Second Congressional District election less than six weeks away, candidate Karen Carter Peterson is reaching out to women voters- especially Black women voters. Carter Peterson recently presided over a well-organized Zoom call with her friend Stacey Abrams, the Georgia political guru. More than 300 women from metro New Orleans and around the country participated. The call’s Chat Box was buzzing as women logged in from Dallas, Los Angeles, the Bronx, Omaha, Des Moines, Lafayette, Houston and Atlanta.
Though many pundits think the candidates must rely heavily on media, Carter Peterson is also relying on an expansive ground game to get out the vote. She used the call to recruit block captains and church advocates as well as volunteers for phone banks, house parties and in-person canvassing, if COVID regulations permit.
Earlier this week Carter Peterson released a list of 100 Black Women who are supporting her candidacy. One of the women listed, former Judge Keva Landrum, told the Uptown Messenger she has not taking sides in the race.
“Karen is a good friend and I am always supportive of her decisions. But I have not made an endorsement or signed an affidavit for any candidate in this race,” Landrum said. Carter Peterson was Landrum’s campaign co-chair when she recently ran for District Attorney. Landrum is the new legal analyst for WWL-TV and has other projects in the works.
State Sen. Troy Carter, also a candidate in the Second Congressional District race, announced yesterday the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who was a national co-chairman of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid. In the latest news cycles, Carter has been chastised over a blighted building he owns in Algiers. Carter Peterson must be anticipating future negative coverage as well. The race is bound to get dirty quickly now.
Federal campaign finance reports are due next week. Both Carter and Carter Peterson claim to have raised significant dollars. Candidate Gary Chambers Jr. should also reveal a healthy war chest.
CITY OFFFERS FLEXIBILITY FOR PROPERTY TAX PAYMENTS
New Orleans property owners who cannot afford to pay their 2021 tax bills in full by the Feb. 28 deadline can make partial payments, although interest will accrue each month until the entire balance is paid off.
According to a City Hall spokesperson, partial tax payments are accepted and may be made by mail, in person or by drop-off. The online system requires the amount to be paid in full at the time or remittance.
The city still plans to conduct tax sales in 2021 on properties with unpaid back taxes from prior years. “As far as tax sales are concerned, 2021 taxes would be subject to the monthly 1% interest on the unpaid balance beginning March 1, 2021, as well as tax sale costs when the tax sale process begins occurring in 2022,” said the spokesperson. Pandemic-related job losses have caused significant financial concerns for many taxpayers.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.