Area businesses warn high electric costs may stifle economic growth in the City of Minden, while schools, churches and nonprofit organizations receive their own electric shocks.
Minden purchases energy from AEP/Swepco, and the cost per kilowatt/hour varies from month to month based on what Swepco charges, according to formulas outlined in a power purchase agreement.
“On top of that charge, the energy is brought in on lines owned by Entergy, and so we incur transportation charges,” Minden Mayor Tommy Davis said.
Electrical lines sometimes become congested transporting energy to customers and that congestion brings another fee.
“There are months where the transportation and congestion fees cost nearly what the energy does,” Davis explained.
Residents faced with doubled electricity bills have banned together in a Facebook group: The Concerned Citizens against City of Minden Utilities.
Their goal is to find the cause and a solution for the shocking bills they must pay or lose electricity.
“We are locked into this contract and have been looking for ways to get out of it or make changes,” Davis said. “Unfortunately we are being told that the language offers loop-holes for the energy company, but the city is locked in.”
Webster Parish School Board’s bill from the City of Minden has increased by approximately $60,000 a year from June 2015 to June 2016.
“We must keep the lights on, so this money will have to be taken from another area,” Crevonne Odom, WPSB Business and Finance Director said. “Knowing that electric cost will increase at minimum two percent each year, I will figure that into the budget.”
Other budgets affected by rising electric cost include area businesses.
“The rise in electricity costs do not encourage growth,” said one area businesses manager. “I would say that it stifles growth and has a negative effect on the local economy.”
Organizations offering assistance to community members have had to pull the plug.
“We have exhausted our funds for emergency aid,” Mary Whitaker, Executive Director for Webster Parish Community Services, said. “We have received so many calls and requests for assistance in the past month, and are turning people away.”
The United Christian Assistance Program also has a program for aiding those who struggle to make utility payments. However, that program’s funds were depleted in September and August.
“September was another record month for UCAP,” UCAP representative Charlotte Jones said. “We paid out $9,868 in utility bills. We did have a donation come in and so we are able to help people with $50 in utilities.”
UCAP is non-profit operated by a local board and was created by area church leaders 30 years ago. However, churches in the City of Minden also have energy cost.
“This is across the board – homes, businesses, churches- it is affecting everyone,” said Paul Gray pastor of Christian Church at Minden. “But we must pay [the bills]. There is no recourse. The city council doesn’t have any recourse. They are doing what they can do to resolve the issue.”
Unfortunately, Gray said higher utility bills takes money away from programs and affects how benevolent churches can be.
As chairman of the United Christian Home, which houses individuals and families who are homeless, and as a leader for the Joe LeBlanc Food Pantry, Gray said it affects both of the programs’ budgets.
“Just as individuals and families budgets are affected by the higher bills, so are these programs,” he said. “We feel helpless to do anything about it. It’s in the hand of the people we elected to resolve this.”
Gray cautioned that though the responsibility to find a solution rests with elected officials, it is not a reason to have bitterness or resentment.
“Not only is that wrong for us to do, it’s not helpful,” he said. “We should lift them up in prayer and encourage them. Pray for wisdom and for God to allow an opportunity to be found in the situation. This is tough on everyone. I want to see the council and the mayor resolve this and I know they will do the best they can do.”
Minden Economic Development Director James Graham said officials are working diligently to address the contract issue.
“We are all aware that the contract, although at first glance appeared and was a good deal for Minden, that as time has progressed it has become burdensome,” Graham said. “We are proud of our businesses and want to attract new business. While this issue is being addressed, it’s important to remember that we have been proactive in attracting new business and in keeping our existing businesses.”
Graham said there are incentives available to business owners to encourage economic growth, some of which can be found at developminden.com
Minden City Council’s next meeting is at 7 p.m., Nov. 7 in council chambers at Minden City Hall.