Eric Skrmetta will face Forest Bradley Wright in next month’s runoff for the Public Service Commission’s 1st District seat.
Despite the backing of large public utilities and a campaign war chest that dwarfed those of his challengers, Skrmetta, the incumbent, was unable to beat back the challenge from solar power advocate Wright and Realtor Allen “Al” Leone.
At the end of a race that had become one of the more contentious contests on the ballot, Skrmetta captured just 37 percent of the vote. Wright won 38 percent and Leone hauled in 25 percent. Put another way, 63 percent of voters chose someone other than the incumbent.
Skrmetta, a Republican, was elected to the PSC in 2008.
Throughout the campaign, he had been accused by his challengers, also Republicans, of being a puppet of the public utility companies he regulates as a PSC commissioner.
The Public Service Commission regulates rates for publicly owned utilities providing electric, water, wastewater, natural gas and telecommunication services in most of the state. The PSC also must grant approval to those companies before they can issue new stocks and bonds or begin major construction projects such as adding power plants or transmission lines. The independent body also regulates intrastate transportation services.
The commission does not regulate utility companies in Orleans Parish, where the City Council handles that task.
The 1st District, one of five commission jurisdictions in the state, spans 11 parishes in southeast Louisiana, including all of St. Tammany, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes and parts of Orleans, Jefferson and St. Charles parishes.
Commissioners serve overlapping six-year-long terms.
During the campaign, Skrmetta estimated that he has helped save customers more than $4 billion by denying requests from public utilities to raise rates.
But Wright, who before announcing his candidacy was the utility policy director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a New Orleans consumer watchdog organization, argued throughout the race that the utilities held an “undue level of influence” on the commissioners, especially Skrmetta.
The runoff is Dec. 6.