Claiborne Electric Cooperative has filed suit against its power supplier for charging them remedial environmental fees they say has nothing to do with them.

Filed in the Middle District of Louisiana, the suit, in conjunction with the Washington St. Tammany Electric Cooperative, alleges a breach of contract and asks the court to award damages and costs “improperly” charged by Louisiana Generating, a subsidiary of NRG Energy.

In the suit, Claiborne Electric and Washington St. Tammany say Louisiana Generating is responsible for the costs of “remediating environmental conditions that existed at the Big Cajun II power generating plant prior to June 24, 2002.”

The dispute centers on one of three power units Louisiana Generating uses to supply power to its customers. Claiborne Electric and Washington St. Tammany contend the $150 million spent by La. Generating to upgrade these units, including Unit 2 in New Roads, from coal-burning units to natural gas units is the responsibility of the power supplier, not the cooperatives. They say the company should reimburse them $7.6 million in “unjustified charges” between July 2015 to May.

Claiborne Electric CEO and General Manager Mark Brown said members already pay an environmental cost for other emission-control expenses that they agree Louisiana
Generating is entitled to collect. However, environmental remediation to the Big Cajun II was remediation done for environmental breaches before La. Generating bought the power plant. Court documents say La. Generating agreed to pay for the costs of the upgrades, and the upgrades made were under the umbrella of the Environmental Protection Agency’s laws enacted in 1970 and 1990, i.e., prior to 2002.

“We’re in favor of cleaner air and a cleaner environment,” Brown said, “but we also have to be mindful of the financial welfare of our members. We will fight to hold down costs for our members and families right here in our community.”

Brown went on to say Claiborne Electric tried to work with La. Generating before filing suit and remains open to a resolution that protects the interests of its members. Hez Elkins, president of the Claiborne Electric Board, said the primary responsibility of the cooperative is to keep its costs low to its customers.

“Our members have homes and families and businesses, and they can’t afford additional and unjustified increases in their power bills,” Elkins said. “We’ve fought for decades to make sure our co-op members are treated fairly and pay the lowest rates possible, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

Claiborne Electric serves 2,627 members with more than 3,500 meters in Webster Parish. Across the six parish area the cooperative serves, they have more than 18,000 members and 23,000 meters.