Friday, May 24, 2024

Political rookie to take on 18-year incumbent in runoff for Louisiana Public Service Commission seat

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

A December runoff for a seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission could have a significant impact on the future of the state’s energy policy, with an 18-year incumbent facing off against a young Baton Rouge activist backed by environmental groups.

The Public Service Commission oversees Louisiana’s public utilities and common carriers across the state, with the exception of New Orleans, with a focus on “ensuring customers are provided safe, adequate and reliable service, at rates that are just and reasonable, equitable and economically sound,” according to the PSC website.

The five-member board sets rates and conditions for the state’s energy monopolies, gas and telecommunications companies, and water and sewer services. The relatively obscure body wields significant influence over Louisiana’s planned transition to renewable energy, improvements to the grid, and efforts to break up Entergy and Cleco.

In most elections, PSC incumbents cruise to victory with little resistance, backed by donations from folks connected to the multi-billion dollar companies they regulate, but Tuesday was different.

Democrat Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III fell short of the 50% of the vote required to avoid a runoff as environmental groups spent heavily to back candidates promising relief from escalating energy prices and limits on utility profits.

Boissiere, who was first elected to the PSC in 2004, garnered 43% of the vote in District 3, followed by Democrat Baton Rouge activist Davante Lewis with 18%, and New Orleans Rev. Gregory Manning with 17%. Two other candidates also combined to peel off about 22% of the vote.

The results will pit Boissiere against Lewis on Dec. 10 for a runoff election that could deprive the incumbent of his final term on the board.

While Bossiere is backed by large donations from energy executives and others connected to the industries before the PSC, Lewis is receiving help from the Keep the Lights On political action committee aligned with the Environmental Defense Fund, The Advocate reports.

Lewis, a policy advocate for the Louisiana Budget Project, also has support from the progressive New Orleans nonprofit Voters Organized to Educate, which touts a platform of public safety, equality and restorative justice.

Lewis has vowed to create a ratepayers’ bill of rights to end service disconnections and offer fixed billing for senior citizens. He wants to end excessive late fees and cap utility profits. He’s also focused on shifting away from “dirty, volatile energy sources” and wants more “green” jobs and to tackle corruption.

“For too long the Public Service Commission has been asleep behind the wheel while billion-dollar utility companies, like Entergy, set the course for our future,” his website reads. “They’ve stuck us with not only soaring bills, but an energy infrastructure grid that can’t weather the storms.”

Lewis is also rejecting donations from companies regulated by the PSC, and promises to focus the commission on the governor’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2035, according to The Advocate.

Boissiere, meanwhile, is pushing back by highlighting his votes for renewable energy projects and Entergy-opposed deals for co-ops to buy energy from out of state.

District 3 covers some of the parishes hardest hit by Hurricane Idea in 2021, including St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. James, and areas of Orleans Parish.

In the PSC’s only other race, Republican Mike Francis was reelected to represent District 4 with 59% of the vote, beating out two challengers for another six-year term.

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