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PSC to revisit energy efficiency program debate

Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- The Louisiana Public Service Commission will reconsider a decision to shelve a planned statewide energy efficiency program, after a lawsuit challenged the commission's previous handling of the issue.

Four organizations sued the utility regulatory agency claiming the commission violated the state's open meetings law by refusing to allow public testimony before voting in February. The groups asked a state district judge to overturn the PSC decision abandoning the program.

PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta announced Tuesday that the commission would revisit the issue next month.

Skrmetta said he's reopening the discussion so that "all facts are clear." He said he never sought to deny the public's right to participate when he refused to allow testimony in February. At the time, he said the in-depth discussion had been done in previous commission hearings.

"This is the public's meeting. This is the public's body. This is the public's business. I do not want anyone to feel as though he or she has been denied his or her rightful voice," Skrmetta said at the PSC's Tuesday meeting.

Jordan Macha, with the Sierra Club, one of the organizations that sued the PSC, said the organizations will decide whether to continue with the lawsuit after the June meeting.

The four groups that filed the lawsuit — the Alliance for Affordable Energy, the Sierra Club, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the League of Women Voters of Louisiana — said they were pleased with the PSC decision to rehear the issues.

"As watchdog organizations, it was our duty to stand up for the legal rights of Louisiana citizens. These proceedings need to be transparent and allow public comment," Casey DeMoss Roberts, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, said in a statement. "Today the commission sent a clear signal that the public should be a part of the process."

The program would offer incentives to people to make their homes more energy-efficient, but the incentive costs would be passed along to all customers of the power companies.

Commissioners who voted to scrap the program said they were worried about the program's costs.

Supporters of the program said any costs to utility customers would be more than offset by the rate savings because of efficiencies created in the way power is delivered and used.