Councilor Helena Moreno this week proposed a series of new accountabilities for the city’s utility company, Entergy New Orleans, following Hurricane Ida, which cut power across the city for days and left some people in the dark for almost two weeks. This includes an independent study on whether the city should reconsider the company’s monopoly control over the city’s power grid.
Actions include an investigation into Ida outages and Entergy’s response, formal government complaints about the transmission outages that caused the outages, and a study of alternative ways to manage the city’s power system. Moreno said she was leaving all options on the table for now, including removing the company’s monopoly control of the city’s electricity market and either more market competition or starting a nonprofit or city-owned electricity company.
“I heard about it from voters long before Ida, but since Ida the number of calls I’ve received about it has been really extensive,” Moreno said in an interview. “Maybe there is a better way, maybe there is a better option.”
But fundamentally changing the city’s electricity procurement is neither quick nor easy, and ordering a study is only a first preliminary step in the process.
“What lies ahead is going to be really tough. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be really tough. But there are really great opportunities ahead of us. “
The measures will be discussed next week at the city council’s utility committee meeting on September 22nd.
“We look forward to discussing this matter with the council at the upcoming utility committee meeting,” said Entergy New Orleans spokeswoman Lee Sabitini in a statement emailed.
Meanwhile, a coalition of consumer and environmental groups – the Alliance for Affordable Energy, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and the Sierra Club – announced on Tuesday that they had filed a motion with the city council calling for a range of accountability measures several of which overlap with Moreno’s proposals.
Some of the suggestions relate to Entergy’s controversial New Orleans Power Station (NOPS). The three groups that submitted the motion – allied under the banner of the Energy Future New Orleans Coalition – led the opposition to NOPS while Entergy sought city council approval for construction from 2016. The council finally approved the facility in 2018 and it went into operation last year.
Part of Entergy’s argument for NOPS was that it had “black start” capability, which means it could be started up without any external electricity. This is important, argued the company, in situations in which the city is cut off from the regional transmission network.
“This could be a huge benefit if New Orleans is electrically ‘island’ from the rest of the interconnected transmission network, as it was after Hurricane Gustav,” said Entergy New Orleans’ then CEO Charles Rice in 2017 in a written testimony that the Council.
This is exactly what New Orleans found itself in two weeks ago, after Ida shut down all eight transmission lines that power the city. However, NOPS’s black start capability was never used, and the city remained without power for days until the company was able to reconnect the first transmission line.
“This catastrophic event is exactly the event that ENO used to justify the application for approval from NOPS,” says the EFNO application. “However, NOPS could not be used until the Slidell transmission line and some distribution lines were repaired.”
As reported by The Times-Picayune / New Orleans Advocate, the company has provided varying reasons for not using black start capability.
“I still don’t understand exactly what NOPS did,” said Moreno. “I understand the company said it worked perfectly, but what does that mean? Obviously I have questions about the black start. “
Moreno said that was part of the Ida investigation she’s asking for. She said she also had questions about where the electricity generated by NOPS is going. Only New Orleans customers are hooked for the estimated $ 650 million bill to build the facility, and Moreno wants to know if all the perks stay with Orleans Parish.
“I also wonder if the electricity was distributed by NOPS, did it go to other areas outside of New Orleans? Because only the tariff payers of Orleans Parish pay for the construction costs of NOPS. “
She said these were some of the big questions for her, but not the only ones.
“The restoration of power, how were these decisions made? Why was the Superdome lit? I heard [Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez] say it was because it would possibly be used as a shelter. I had never heard of it, the Superdome folks had never heard of it, so where did that come from? So the bottom line is just a few questions that I would have to answer about NOPS and much more. “
Moreno also has questions about how and why all eight power lines to New Orleans went down.
According to WWL-TV, the transmission outages occurred when 12 transmission masts and masts were damaged by strong winds. One of those towers in Avondale collapsed in a rusted heap. Images of the damage spread widely on social media when local residents asked if the company had maintained the transmission lines well enough.
However, most of the transmission network is outside Orleans Parish and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the New Orleans City Council. Many of the transmission lines fall within the Entergy Louisiana area regulated by the Louisiana Public Service Commission.
For this reason, part of Moreno’s proposal includes filing complaints with the Commission for the Public Service as well as with the Federal Supervisory Authority at the Federal Energy Regulation Commission.
The EFNO coalition also urges the council to consider new decentralized solar and battery resources, which they believe would make the city more climate resilient and help restore electricity more quickly after a storm.
“Community-driven solutions, such as solar systems with battery storage, are the key to rebuilding an energy system in New Orleans after the storm that works for everyone,” said a press release by the EFNO coalition on Tuesday. “This rebuilding begins with the Council blaming Entergy for its shabby and neglected energy system, dressed in false and misleading PR.”