Public officials said Friday that it took longer than expected for power to be restored to their constituents after storms this week but that utility companies have improved their post-storm power restoration in recent years.
Tornadoes and thunderstorms that raged through south Louisiana on Monday left more than 175,000 people without power across the state. Entergy, the state’s largest utility, had planned to restore almost all of those by Thursday night but still had 1,500 customers without power statewide on Friday.
About 680 of those left without power were in Baton Rouge, the hardest-hit area. Entergy representatives say they had about 3,000 people working throughout the state to restore power. They said they had 1,000 of their own workers out and brought in more than 900 additional linemen, 400 extra tree trimmers and 800 more support workers.
Sheila Pounders, Entergy’s director of customer service, said the problem with restoring power has not been the number of workers but rather the slow-going process.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden was not in the office Friday afternoon and was unavailable to comment on the length of time it took for power to be restored, according to his spokesman, Scott Dyer.
Still, some questioned Entergy’s storm response.
“Their response was less than ideal,” said Jefferson Parish President John Young.
He said some areas appear to need improvement.
“The response in terms of manpower could have been more robust, and the communication to the residents and business owners could have been better,” Young said.
He said the problems seemed more management and organizational in nature, rather than complaints about workers who were out restoring power lines and trimming trees.
Entergy has had to repair more than 500 poles, 300 transformers and 1,100 segments of line across the state, Pounders said.
She said it is difficult to compare Entergy’s response to this week’s storms with past tropical storms and hurricanes because utility workers could better plan for what to expect in those events.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission, which oversees the utility companies, will receive a report at its May 13 meeting on how the utility companies responded to restoring power.
Commissioners Lambert Boissiere III and Eric Skrmetta said they are mostly reserving judgment until they have the full research that will be presented at the meeting.
Skrmetta said he was 80 percent satisfied with the utility companies’ post-storm performances. The 20 percent of dissatisfaction stemmed from problems with tree-trimming practices.
He said trees that were not trimmed properly were too close to power lines, which more easily knocked out power during the storm.
“I, for one, am surprised that we still had a few people out for Thursday night,” Boissiere said. “... I’m frustrated that anyone’s out but I want to reserve judgment before” the Public Service Commission meets.
Boissiere noted that the PSC is meant to hold the utilities companies accountable, and he said he has been pushing Entergy for updates since the storm began.
East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said she has received only a few calls of complaints from constituents.
But, she said, the PSC needs to do a better job of educating the public about how to be prepared for these situations. She said she heard about an alleged tense incident in the Glen Oaks area a few days ago in which Entergy workers said customers in the area became hostile when they were trying to fix the utilities.
“It’s an indication to me that many consumers of utilities do not understand how it works,” Edwards said.
She said the Public Service Commission needs to put out more consumer-related information.
“They’re paid to do a job and so we expect them to be engaged with their constituents,” Edwards said. “They need to be held accountable just like all public officials.”
Councilman John Delgado said he also plans to meet with Entergy once power has been restored everywhere to better understand why the restoration of power in his district was so patchy.
Delgado, who represents the area near LSU’s campus, said burying the current above-ground power lines might prevent power blackouts in the future.
“The best thing to say about their performance is that it was good in some places and bad in others,” Delgado said. “Even within my district, I had some areas that were on nearly instantly, they lost power for a matter of an hour, and I had some places in my district that were off for a matter of days.”
He said those kinds of disparities within about a relatively small square-mile area don’t seem to make sense.
Entergy spokeswoman Amber Ferchaud said they encourage anyone who still does not have power to check their electrical equipment. If it’s damaged, Entergy cannot fix it and they will need an electrician.