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COSTS seeks performance data from NLR Electric

There is a fairly popular saying in some circles known as “too much information.” Normally, it is used in the context of a person revealing something about himself that the hearer would rather have not known.

The opposite may apply to the group “Citizens of Sherwood Together,” more commonly known as COST, with how it relates to North Little Rock Electric. The Sherwood citizens advocacy group, which led the effort to put on a public referendum North Little Rock Electric’s 22-year electric franchise agreement with the city, wants more information from the municipally owned utility about how it performs in providing service to its customers.

Don Berry, COST’s chairman said he has made four Freedom of Information Act requests to the city of North Little Rock to get the performance data. Berry said his group has received performance data about how First Electric Coop and Entergy of Arkansas operate from documents provided by the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

To date, North Little Rock Electric has not provided COST with the requested information.

“North Little Rock Electric has said it provides superior service,” Berry said.

Berry said he wants North Little Rock to show evidence of its claims that it provides the best service.

In a letter from Berry to Clark D. Cotton, senior electric engineer for the Arkansas Public Service Commission, he wants data from all three utilities to analyze if any one of them provided better service than the others.

“In our mind service reliability for our three providers is probably quite close as relates to the service performance to all Sherwood customers,” Berry wrote. “The standard reports made to the PSC will provide a means to settle ongoing conversations in the media and social media to the contrary. We want our citizens to see the facts are reported by the companies.”

Berry continued, “From our perspective the PSC’s oversight of the public utilities provides a baseline from which we can all logically and factually make major service comparisons … or not. In our mind service reliability for our three providers is probably quite close as relates to the service performance to all Sherwood customers. The standard reports made to the PSC will provide a means to settle ongoing conversations in the media and social media to the contrary. We want our citizens to see the facts are reported by the companies.”

First Electric and Entergy of Arkansas provide performance data reports to the Public Service Commission because the Arkansas PSC regulates both of them, while state agency does not have jurisdiction over North Little Rock Electric.

Berry said he does not believe it is an unreasonable request to make of North Little Rock Electric since the other two utilities compile the information.

Berry said it is his belief that North Little Rock Electric isn’t keeping the information from him that COST is seeking. Rather, he believes the utility doesn’t keep such performance data because it is not required to do so since it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Arkansas PSC.

Berry said if North Little Rock Electric won’t or cannot produce the requested performance data then it should not claim to provide better service than other electric providers because it would have no evidence to back up such claims.

North Little Rock City Attorney Jason Carter, who also currently is serving as interim general manager of North Little Rock Electric, confirmed that Berry asked the city for electric service reliability information similar to what Entergy and First Electric submit to the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

“As you know, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) applies to all public records. FOIA does not apply to records that do not exist,” Carter said. “I have no idea what reliability information the APSC requires of Entergy or First Electric. I think it is unreasonable to expect the City of North Little Rock to investigate the reporting requirements of another electric utility and create a set of records to satisfy an individual request.”

Carter said there is a reason why North Little Rock Electric does not produce Arkansas PSC-like reports.

“The North Little Rock City Council does not simply regulate the North Little Rock Electric Department, the Council governs every aspect of business operations,” Carter said. “The APSC is a regulating body; meaning, they mandate certain reports and determine whether major actions by utilities are in the best interest of the public. The North Little Rock City Council is far more intimate with operations in [the department], approving budgets, staffing, rates, bonds, contracting, etc. All of this information is public. The Council doesn’t mandate reports that they don’t need.”

Carter said North Little Rock Electric has been sharing information with the city of Sherwood about its operations for about a year as its municipal leaders studied the franchise agreement proposals of the three utilities.

“Our customers have enjoyed reliable low-cost service,” Carter said. “ Our rates went up a few years ago, but we have had two reductions since that increase. We are forecasting future reductions that will return our prices to the lowest in Sherwood, as they have almost always been, even while our competitors are forecasting rate increases. If Sherwood changes their electric provider, they will end up with higher rates, less funding for their government, and a pocketful of buyer’s remorse.”

Carter said he has offered to meet with COST members and answer their questions.

“I haven’t heard back from them,” Carter said.

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