Plant helps keep costs down

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said that without the revenues generated from the hydroelectric plant, citizens&8217; utility bills would be even higher.

&8220;In the past 14 years Vidalia&8217;s utility rates have been in pretty good shape,&8221; Copeland said. &8220;But in the last few months people, as well as myself, have had to deal with a small crisis of paying more for electricity, and now they want to hang me out to dry.&8221;

Copeland said only six percent of the city&8217;s power is bought from the S.A. Murray Hydroelectric Generation Station, which opened in the early &8216;90s.

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Vidalia purchases the majority of its power from Louisiana Energy and Power Authority, Copeland said, and the cost to purchase power from that company has gone up.

&8220;What has affected us is the price of natural gas,&8221; Copeland said.

Copeland said he is looking for other companies to buy power from as well as talking to LEPA representatives about lowering the amount of money it costs to power the city.

&8220;We&8217;re doing everything possible to lower the rates and lower energy costs,&8221; Copeland said.

Where the hydroelectric plant does come in, according to City Manager Kenneth Davis, is helping to supply the city&8217;s utility and general fund.

According Ordinance-588, which governs the use of revenues generated by the hydroelectric plant, revenues must be maintained and administered in a certain order.

This ordinance was adopted by the city in January 1998.

According to the ordinance, first, the monies generated from the plant must go toward maintenance of the plant itself then money may be used for any special projects the mayor and the board of aldermen see fit to use the money for in the city.

The third provision of the ordinance states that any revenues generated must be put in a reserve fund and the fourth provision states that money can go toward the city&8217;s utility fund if the normal cost of electric power and energy exceeds 38 mills per kilowatt hour.

The fifth provision allows for any monies left over after being used to cover provisions one through four can be rebated back to the plant customers at an amount set by the mayor and board of aldermen.

Davis said the city gave refunds to citizens for the total amount of $1.5 million from 2002-2004.

According to the sixth provision of the ordinance, revenues generated from the plant are transferred to the Vidalia&8217;s general fund.

The money would offset any deficits incurred in the operation and maintenance of all non-utility municipal services including police and fire departments and street sanitation, Davis said.

&8220;In the past, money collected from utility bills was enough to support the general fund,&8221; Davis said. &8220;So we saved the money from the hydro plant in the reserve fund for low water years.&8221;

David Harris, the general manager for the hydroelectric plant, said the royalties generated from the plant have not been as high because of the drought and low river stages the Miss-Lou has seen the last two years.

&8220;Our energy output is generated from the Mississippi River flow,&8221; Harris said. &8220;Our production is not as high because the level of water is not as high as in the past.&8221;

Under a contract agreement between the city and the plant, Harris said the plant would continue to give the city royalties until 2051 and that as energy rates increase, so too would the royalties.

Davis said these royalties are paid twice a year.

According to the contract the plant does have the right to hold the money when it needs to but later compensate the city for the amount it held.

Davis said the plant has not done this since 2000.