At a public forum held Thursday night at the South Side Library, Terry Huval, director of the public-owned Lafayette Utilities System, told the crowd of about 60 people that the decision had already been made by the council to move forward on a multi-million dollar project to bring the 30 year old Rodemacher 2 coal plant up to federal standards.

“It’s a done deal. We are moving forward on this project,” says Huval. “The council has approved the bonds, and the bonds sold.”

                                         Simon Mahan / Photo by Elizabeth Rose

He says the total bond issue equals $65 million, which the council got at an interest rate of 2.79 percent.

Huval’s comments Thursday came on the heels of a presentation by Lafayette resident Simon Mahan, a renewable energy manager with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, who outlined an alternative energy plan during the second in a series of public forums organized by the League of Women Voters of Lafayette and the Sierra Club Acadian Group.

Mahan says that by replacing coal, which currently provides 60 percent of the area’s electricity, Lafayette could save just shy of a billion dollars over the next 20 years.

Mahan’s “clean future scenario” calls for a long-term investment in advanced natural gas power plants, increased energy efficiency, and both wind and solar power.

“If we continue with business as usual, we’ll spend about $3.5 billion over the next 20 years," says Mahan. "If we go with a clean future scenario, we’ll only spend around $2.8 billion.”

Mahan points to Louisiana’s abundance in natural gas reserves, farm land and even sunlight, as ways to replace coal, which currently is purchased and shipped from Wyoming.

“We’re asking for the council to sanction a citizens task force to figure this all out and conduct a financial risk assessment and technological review,” Mayan says.

The residents attending Thursday's forum agree.

"Coal is a foolish decision," says Griff Blakewood, a renewable resources professor at UL.

Sierra Club member Harold Schoeffler says the creation of a citizen committee will be an imperative to changing the thinking of public officials, who seem set on continuing Lafayette's coal dependence.

"Recycling was accomplished because a citizen committee was created to investigate and make a recommendation to the council," says Schoeffler. "Twenty-five years into it and we have a modeling recycling system."

Huval says the decision to bring Rodemacher up to standard is all about cost-factor. He says the price of coal is much stabler than natural gas, and the original $200 million debt owed on Rodemacher has been paid.

Yet, Huval does know the negatives associated with coal, as seen in David Cay Johnston’s new book “The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use ‘Plain English’ To Rob You Blind,” which was released in September. In the fourth chapter, titled “Railroaded,”Huval  discusses why coal is a bad deal for Lafayette. Johnston writes:

From Kansas City on south, two railroads, the Kansas City Southern and the Union Pacific, rumble across Arkansas, delivering Wyoming coal to Louisiana. Although both railroads trace the eastern shore of the Red River to Lafayette, the utility’s power plant is twenty miles back upstream on the west side of the river. As it happens, the west bank is Union Pacific’s exclusive province. Well, you might say, why can’t Lafayette negotiate competitive rates from Wyoming to the Lafayette rail yards, then pay Union Pacific a monopoly rate to haul its coal the last twenty miles to the parish’s Rodemacher power plant? Sadly, it doesn’t work that way, and Lafayette pays a monopoly rate for the entire 1,520-mile trip.

‘We are a classic captive customer,’ said Terry Huval, who runs the Lafayette Utilities System. ‘On ninety-nine percent of the route we have competitive rail service, so we would like to negotiate for competitive rates on that portion, but we cannot.’

You’re probably wondering what this means to your monthly electric bill. Thanks to Congress, you’re not really allowed to know that. ‘I’d tell you the terms of our contract if I could,’ Huval said. Even though he couldn’t tell me the particulars, he did describe the big picture. According to Huval, Union Pacific’s monopoly pricing costs his community about $6.5 million per year. And the figure keeps rising.


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