Residents want to know where money goes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 17, 2000

VIDALIA, La. – How does the Louisiana Hydroelectric plant actually operate, and how much electricity – and how much in revenues – does it produce? Where do those revenues go?

On what have past royalties Vidalia received from the plant been spent? And when the town gets about $1.7 million in royalties that it is owed by the plant, on what will that money be spent?

Those are some of the questions Vidalia residents still have about the plant, which is located at the south end of Concordia Parish and produces electricity using water from the Mississippi River.

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At a Nov. 14 Vidalia Board of Aldermen meeting, some citizens said they were told, before the plant opened in 1990, that with royalties the town would receive from the plant’s power production, they might actually get a rebate on their electric bills this year. Instead, due to low river levels, the plant is producing hardly any power. And according to the privately-run plant’s contract with the town, the plant can hold off paying royalties to the town until the plant begins making a profit again.

According to town officials, royalties from the &uot;hydro plant&uot; have cushioned customers against increases in their electric rates in past years even though the cost of that electricity has gone up. (The town actually buys most of its power from other sources.) But now that royalties have been deferred, Vidalians’ electric rates went up last month by at least $1.76 a month for businesses and $1.68 for homes.

&uot;I can see sanitation, water and natural gas rates going up, … but not electricity. At one time we were told (royalties) were going to be used for utilities, to offset costs,&uot; said S.L. &uot;Joe&uot; Brashier, who attended the Nov. 14 meeting. He cited a 1998 newspaper article that discussed the amount of royalties being generated by the hydro plant. &uot;In two years, I can’t see how things changed so drastically, from having a reserve to having no reserve. I’d like to know where that money went to.&uot;

&uot;Many people thought the hydro was going to stabilize rates and that they might even see a reduction in rates,&uot; said Bobby Lowe, who also attended the meeting.

While hastening to add that he has &uot;no big gripe with the city,&uot; Bob Partridge did say he still has questions about the economics of buying and selling power.

&uot;Most people thought we got power from the hydro plant, so how come we’re not? In purchasing power from other sources, what do we pay for power? Those are the kinds of questions I have,&uot; Partridge said. &uot;Also, people are confused on how much revenue is produced (by the hydro plant) and where it goes when the town receives it.&uot;

Doris Talley said she would also like to know how much of those royalties have gone into the town’s general fund and how the town plans to spend royalties in the future. &uot;(And) since it was obvious … that the royalties would be delayed in coming, why wasn’t (Town of Vidalia) spending curtailed?&uot;, she added.

Debbie Brocato, who attended the Nov. 14 meeting to discuss other issues, such as drainage, said she &uot;would like to know how the hydro plant actually operates. There’s so much detail.&uot;

Actually, Partridge believes that most Vidalians have not begun to air their hydro plant questions yet, simply because mild weather has meant their bills have not risen that much yet. &uot;But there’s going to be a substantial (bill) increase if the weather gets much colder,&uot; he said. &uot;When people’s bills start going up – that’s when they’ll ask questions.&uot;