NO.powerplantvote.030918.007

Speaking cards are held up in the newly-renovated City Hall Council Chambers before City Council votes if they are to allow Entergy to build a new power plant on Paris Road, at the in New Orleans, Thursday, March 8, 2018.

The bill sent to Entergy New Orleans to bring paid people, including actors, to public meetings to speak on behalf of a new $210 million power plant in New Orleans East totaled $55,000, according to documents obtained by The Lens.

It's unclear in the newly released records how much of that $55,000 was paid out to the incentivized participants.

Participants got $60 to attend each meeting, wearing bright orange shirts that said, “Clean Energy. Good Jobs. Reliable Power," according to The Lens. Those with “speaking roles” were paid $200.

Entergy maintains it never authorized or knew about such payments. The utility company has acknowledged paying to bring supporters to the meetings.

The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously in late May to release a request for proposals for a third-party consultant to look into the matter, which was brought to light in an investigation by The Lens.  

Entergy will bear the cost of the investigation and will not be allowed to pass on that cost to ratepayers. 

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"This council ... will thoroughly investigate every single aspect, from when it started and who knew about it and just how pervasive it was with the gas plant," Council President Jason Williams said. 

It turns out that at several public meetings on the proposal, actors paid by a California-based firm called Crowds on Demand turned up to support Entergy.

Entergy's own investigation confirmed that its public relations firm, the Virginia-based Hawthorn Group, had hired Crowds on Demand, although the company denied that it was aware of the arrangement to pay actors.

The fiasco represents the first known time in local politics that professional actors with no clear stake in an issue were paid to create a false image of public support, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as "astroturfing."

Technically, the practice doesn't appear to be illegal, but council members and opponents of the new plant have said it threatens the integrity of public debates.  

Entergy proposed a gas-fired power plant two years ago as a cleaner and more efficient alternative to a 1960s-era facility on Old Gentilly Road in New Orleans East that has been decommissioned. 

But the plan drew opposition from environmentalists and neighbors who argued the company should invest more in renewable energy sources. 

Click here to read The Lens' full story.