Louisiana utilities are monitored by the Public Service Commission. The PSC is responsible for setting water and electric service rates and implementing programs such as the “Do Not Call” list.
The PSC carries a duty of protecting public interest by ensuring utility services are safe and reliable. With a budget of $8.7 million and ability to collect more than the state appropriated amount, the commission is comprised of five districts of which elected members serve six-year terms.
In the 11 parish, 2nd District, which includes Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes, Commissioner James Field, 72, is retiring at the completion of his current term on Dec. 31. He has served the five-member board since Dec. 2, 1996.
Six candidates have come forward to seek the open PSC seat. They include three Republicans, one Democrat and one candidate with no declared party affiliation. A fourth Republican withdrew from competition in September. The remainder will see if one is selected above the crowd or if their initial political battle will result in simply narrowing the field as a primary election.
Name: Scott A. Angelle
Residence: Breaux Bridge
Louisiana’s former Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle (2004-2012) is considered the best known name in the Public Service Commission race. During his years with the DNR, he served six months, in 2010, as interim lieutenant governor.
Angelle did not return repeated telephone calls and email messages offering interview time.
According to ballotpedia, Angelle, a resident of Breaux Bridge, earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Louisiana Lafayette.
Angelle’s previous public office experience includes serving as the first parish president of St. Martin Parish from 2000 to 2004. Prior to that he was a member of the St. Martin Parish Police Jury.
Name: Greg Gaubert
Party: No Party
Owner of the Carmel Inn and Suites in Thibodaux, Greg Gaubert said he is qualifies to serve on the Public Service Commission because of past work with a former family business L.F. Gaubert.
“I’ve been in electrical production for every segment of the Public Service Commission,” Gaubert said. “We’ve done Department of Transportation Projects, cables for the railroad industry nationwide, and supplied utility cables for Entergy, the Tennessee Valley Authority and countless other utility companies.”
Gaubert said while no longer directly involved in electrical work, he has the knowledge and experience necessary for bring practical application to commission decisions.
Among the most pressing issues involving the PSC, this candidate said, is that Louisiana residents have yet to be paid refunds owed them from overpaying electric rates during the past three years. He wants to see that money returned to consumers.
Gaubert also supports the idea of developing hydroelectric plants and look at relative expansion with natural gas as a supply source.
“With the rising cost of electricity there are people that will cut back on [taking care of their homes],” he said. “This is a curtail thing where you restore the family [by reducing consumer rates].”
Name: Sarah Holliday
Residence: Baton Rouge
Sarah Holliday said the advantage she has as a candidate for Public Service Commission comes from being a homemakers and business owner who knows what it is like to try and make personal budgets balance with the cost of living.
Having earned a Master’s degree in counseling and education from Southern University in 1987, Holliday has also been trained and experienced as a paralegal working in law firms and with judges.
Holliday owns Hollico and identifies herself as counselor and family support specialist.
“I know as a wife and mother how utility bills can be a strain on your budget,” Holliday said.”After I found out Commissioner Field was not running I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to run.”
Holliday has never sought public office, but said as an “ordinary person and problem solver” she has an ability to deal with PSC issues.
“One issue I see is accountability,” the candidate said.”I have a problem with commissioners accepting money from utility companies you regulate, even though it is not unlawful.
“Another thing I am finding out,” she continued, “is many people don’t know what [the PSC] is. When I refer to the light bill, then they understand. I want to try to educate and administer to the public at the same time.”
Holliday said she wants to work with homeowners, business owners and community organizations to identify clean, low cost and efficient energy solutions.
Name: Erich Ponti
Residence: Baton Rouge
State Rep. Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge) said that if elected to the Public Service Commission, he intends to resign from his position in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
A general contractor by trade, Ponti’s public service began when he was elected to the state House in 2008. Now he feels his business experience would be an asset to manage public utilities policy.
“I was involved in the Homebuilders Association and that’s how I got introduced to politics,” Ponti said. “I never thought I’d run for office. Then with term limits and a new governor I ran.”
Ponti said with combined experience as an industrial builder and in the workings of government he has the needed combination to understand and deal with issues coming before the PSC.
“I bring conservative business values to the Public Service Commission,” the candidate said. “There are several issues coming up this next term. These include reviewing energy in January, selling the grid system and then deregulation of waste hauling. There are quite a few others.”
Ponti said he has a proven record and is committed to the position long term to keep utility rates low for consumers.
Name: “Ed” Roy
Ed Roy is a former television weatherman who currently works as a private investigator. He entered the race for Public Service Commissioner, but withdrew his candidacy on Sept. 7.
“Despite my strong belief that I would serve the people of Louisiana well on the Commission, the campaign has been unable to raise the funds necessary to be competitive,” Roy said in a prepared statement. He said he is still interested in serving the state, but will have to find a more affordable way to accomplish that intention.
Name: Forest Wright
Residence: New Orleans
Forest Wright is an independent energy consultant who said he is passionate about his work.
“For the last 10 years I have been working to find solutions to our energy issues,” Wright said. “I’m particularly looking at affordability, reliability and efficient use of resources going into the future.”
Wright said he wants to secure the PSC seat because he has a clear understanding of energy issues. “The Public service commission has a sacred duty to protect public interest,” he said. “That means they need to be clear on how to meet public needs by working with utilities and directing utilities.”
Wright said he expects the PSC to be looking at Entergy rates and setting those for the next several years. “The really large issue is that Entergy has been a vertical monopoly,” he said. “We are shifting to a larger market base system … and the transmission needs to be made by an independent organization. Entergy will no longer be in a position of deciding if it will sell its own power to the public based on internal corporate decisions. Those decisions will be made by independent operators. Meanwhile Entergy is selling off transmission facilities.”
This candidate said changes require someone who understands the details of utilities and legislation. He said if elected he will address energy needs with a proactive approach and make investment in energy efficiency equal to building new power plants.
Wright said he is best qualified for the commission seat because he has background experience in utilities and the integrity not to take money from utilities as personal contributions. “Utility companies already have an enormous amount of influence,” he said. “The public has five commissioners. So, integrity is the most important issue. My opponents are taking [campaign] money from the utilities. I want to make sure the public knows every decision I make is in their interest.”