Foster Campell

Louisiana Public Service Commissioner

THE HEAT IS ON: PSC Keeps Things Cool When Weather Gets Extreme

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Who can forget the summer of 2011? The National Weather Service office in Shreveport says 2011 was one of the warmest years on record for many locations across Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Our region suffered below-normal rainfall during the 2011 spring, followed by record heat and exceptional drought conditions throughout much of the summer and early fall. Shreveport saw an astounding 63 days when the temperature was 100 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter. The city set a record for 18 days when temperatures were 105 degrees or hotter.

It is too early to say whether we will set more records this summer, but there is no doubt the weather is heating up again. When it gets this hot, the presence (or lack of) electricity in your home can be the difference between life and death.

That is why, in 2007, I sponsored a rule at the Public Service Commission to suspend electric and gas cutoffs during extreme weather. The rule states that electric and gas companies regulated by the PSC shall not disconnect service for a residential customer in a parish on a day when heat advisories are issued by the nearest National Weather Service bureau, or when temperatures are below freezing.

The NWS defines “heat advisory” as applying within 12 hours of the beginning of the following conditions: a heat index of at least 105°F but less than 115°F for less than 3 hours per day, or nighttime lows above 80°F for 2 consecutive days. In winter the no-cutoff rule applies when temperatures are 32 degrees or colder. The rule does not relieve utility customers of the obligation to pay their bills. What it does is give people assurance that they won’t be subjected to the blistering heat of summer or bitter cold of winter because they’ve temporarily fallen behind on their payments.

From June to September of 2011, SWEPCO canceled more than 13,000 disconnects due to the PSC rule. That represents 13,000 instances when power would normally be cut off for non-payment, but due to extreme weather the customer was given more time to pay or suspension of cutoff until the weather cooled. To their credit, the utilities did not actively oppose the PSC initiative in 2007. We debated the details but ultimately agreed on the need to help utility customers in financial difficulty during extreme weather conditions. Extreme heat not only stresses pocketbooks for utility customers. It also pushes utilities to run power generators at maximum capacity and add new plants to meet demand.

SWEPCO did not exceed 5,000 megawatts of electricity demand on its three-state system until last summer. The company topped the 5,000-megawatt mark 15 times last year and set a new peak of 5,543 megawatts at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, August 3, 2011. The Shreveport temperature was 109 degrees. A megawatt is a million watts, or enough energy to supply power to 250 to 500 homes in the summer heat.

SWEPCO gets 85 percent of its power by burning Wyoming coal and locally mined lignite at 4 of its 11 power plants in its three-state territory. The remainder of its energy needs come from natural gas. The Stall unit at Arsenal Hill is a 508-megawatt gas-fired power plant near downtown Shreveport. It came on line last summer, providing additional capacity to meet the energy needs of SWEPCO customers. The John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant, a 600-megawatt coal unit, is under construction in Southwest Arkansas. It is 75-percent complete, and will begin commercial operation in October 2012.

Central Louisiana Electric Co., known as CLECO, also hit a new peak last summer. The Pineville-based company said it generated and sold a record 2,355 megawatts of power at 5 p.m. on August 3, 2011. CLECO recently built a new power plant at Boyce fueled by petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refining. That plant helps CLECO maintain a 12-percent capacity reserve to cope with peak demand. CLECO has several industrial customers on “interruptible” rates, meaning they agree to have their service interrupted during peak periods to help the utility avoid brownouts across the rest of the system. In exchange, the customer gets discounted rates.
CLECO is also installing advanced meters that will allow residential customers to achieve price reductions by agreeing to reduce use during peaks.

Entergy Louisiana and Entergy Gulf States Louisiana are utilities operated by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. Entergy Louisiana, formerly called Louisiana Power & Light, covers a large territory from eastern Bossier Parish to the Mississippi River and southward past New Orleans. The company peaked last summer at 5,766 megawatts of power sold at 5 p.m. on August 26. The Gulf States unit of Entergy, covering an area of south Louisiana roughly from Baton Rouge to Lake Charles, peaked at 3,787 megawatts at 5 p.m. on August 18.