Although a consensus had already been reached on Entergy Arkansas' proposed rate hike, Villagers made an impression at a hearing before the Arkansas Public Service Commission last week.
After the hearing at PSC's office in Little Rock, Hot Springs Village Property Owners' Association board president Harv Shelton and POA board's governmental affairs committee vice chair Gerald Allen agreed the Villagers' participation made an impact.
"We had a very productive day at the Public Service Commission," Shelton said. "The commissioners listened very intently."
Allen said the Village gained key exposure before the PSC and Entergy Arkansas, "and they know where and who we are," he said. A pledge by the utility's top officials to visit the Village will help reach a solution, he added.
Three Villagers were the only members of the public who spoke at the evidentiary hearing for Entergy's rate request.
Later, Entergy Arkansas chief executive officer Hugh McDonald told the state's three PSC commissioners the service problems in Hot Springs Village are not acceptable, and the utility would continue to take steps to improve service.
PSC Commissioner Lamar Davis told the Entergy CEO many public comments had been received during the rate setting process. "We've received a lot of public comments on reliability, particularly from Hot Springs Village," Davis told McDonald.
Entergy Arkansas has already made improvements, including adding a substation in Fountain Lake and upgrading transmission and distribution lines in the Village, which has helped. "It has improved reliability, but not nearly as much as we want to see," McDonald told the commissioner.
Entergy has made substantial improvements in recent years to transmission lines across its system, McDonald told Davis. Transmission lines carry high voltage power. Distribution lines connect to each Entergy customer.
Afterwards, McDonald and Entergy Arkansas chief operating officer Ric Riley spoke with the Village contingent to discuss what can be done to further improve service to the Village.
Entergy Arkansas officials pledge to visit the Village this year. Riley will be promoted to CEO this year, upon McDonald's retirement.
Speaking on the public record were Shelton, as well as Michael Dollar and Bob Hebert. Dollar is the Hot Springs Village Area Chamber of Commerce executive director and a GAC member. Shelton is the GAC board liaison. Hebert and his wife, Stephanie, owned and operated Village Yogurt near the West Gate.
Shelton told commissioners key concerns for Villagers are reliability of service, disparity among customer classes, magnitude of the requested rate hike and the utility's proposed return on equity.
"Most Villagers rely solely on electric power service for heating and cooling their homes," he told the PSC. "Reliability and reasonable costs are extremely important, because there are no practical alternatives."
Hebert told commissioners power outages greatly harmed his business, which closed last September. Outages caused a loss of thousands of dollars of materials, and the expense of preparing to re-open with fresh materials.
Village Yogurt depended upon three-phase industrial power. Even when power was finally restored, it sometimes lacked one phase, meaning his equipment still could not operate, Hebert told commissioners.
Dollar told commissioners large and small businesses depend upon reliable power. And economic development hinges upon it.
"Point-of-sale cash registers, refrigeration units, manufacturing equipment, communications devices, data backup hardware, customer relationship management/enterprise resource planning software systems and computer servers all require reliable sources of electricity," he told the PSC.
Power interruptions to sales transactions or production schedules, or loss of perishable inventory, harm a business' viability, he said.
"The slightest hint of site infrastructure instability can devastate revitalization opportunities to this promising region of the Natural State' for a long time to come," Dollar told commissioners.
He acknowledged efforts have been made, but said the Highway 7 corridor needs additional focus to fulfill reasonable business service expectations.
Time remains to comment on the official public record. Through Thursday's deadline, comments may be sent through a form on the PSC website, http://www.arkansas.gov/psc/, by email or mailed to Arkansas Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 400, Little Rock, AR 72203-0400.
The PSC website has a "public comments" link on the right side of the home page. On the next page, search for Entergy's rate-hike request, PSC Docket No. 15-015-U. All comments must be filed with the docket number and the commenter's name, address and phone number.
Representatives of all participating parties in attendance spoke highly of the rate settlement.
Entergy officials said it was a significant achievement, representing cooperation between very diverse groups ranging from large industry, large retailers, health and education institutions and the Sierra Club. Entergy told PSC commissioners the PSC's staff provided key assistance.
The settlement remains a recommendation until approved by the commissioners. Entergy filed a rate hike request last April. The PSC must render a decision by Feb. 24.
The PSC is bound to pursue public interest in setting utility rates, balancing needs of utilities, consumers, large and small businesses, industries and institutions, executive director John Bethel says.
The PSC's goal is to set rates that enable a utility to provide safe, reliable power at a reasonable price. "So when you turn the switch, the lights come on," Bethel said during a town hall meeting sponsored by the GAC last September.
Entergy Arkansas, the state's largest public utility, serves Villagers in Garland County. First Electric Cooperative serves Villagers in Saline County. Entergy and First Electric are among the 24 power utilities regulated by the PSC.
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