A long-running debate over whether Entergy New Orleans should build a $216 million new power plant in New Orleans East, which has morphed into a wider dispute over the future of energy generation in New Orleans, played out again in the City Council chamber Monday evening. 

The council was expected to vote on the controversial idea in January, but it has now pushed back the vote to April. That caused some at Monday’s two-hour public hearing on the matter, called by the council’s Utilities Regulatory Office, to decry the event’s timing.

LaToya Cantrell was the only member of the council present for the hearing.

Most of those in the audience Monday were against the proposal for a new plant at the site of Entergy's shuttered Michoud facility in New Orleans East, though the idea did draw some support.

Relying on electricity generation powered by fossil fuels — as Entergy’s proposed natural gas-fired plant would do for years to come — has caused pollution and “as a matter of fact, is gradually killing our own human race,” said Anthony Tran, a parishioner at Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church, which is not far from the site.

“That’s the cost of what we are paying. It is insane,” he said, to applause.

Tran and other critics said the money Entergy wants to spend on a 226-megawatt combustion turbine plant would be better spent on improved energy efficiency programs, which decrease the amount of power its New Orleans customers use overall.

Opponents said Entergy’s projections for growth in power usage over the next few years are flawed; they said the demand for electricity has actually been holding steady.

And they questioned Entergy’s dismissal of a NASA, LSU and UCLA study that suggested that groundwater use by industry — such as the millions of gallons of groundwater Entergy’s old Michoud plant drew over decades — could be linked to subsidence in the area.

Entergy, however, has said its new plant would emit less pollution and use less groundwater than did its predecessor. The company says the new plant is needed to replace power the city lost when the Michoud units were decommissioned in June. Further, it says, wind and solar power alternatives — which Tran and others urged Entergy to consider — are unreliable and intermittent.

If built, the new plant would add $5.84 to the average customer’s electricity bill in its first year. It would create about 100 temporary jobs during a three-year construction period, but only 12 permanent jobs. 

Those jobs don’t compare to the hundreds of jobs that could be created if Entergy committed to efficient energy, said Logan Atkinson Burke of the Alliance for Affordable Energy.

“Please remember that this decision sends a 40-year message to the communities that live just three miles from the site,” she said. As for the idea of kicking the can down the road on cleaner energy, she said, “If not now, when?”

In a recent interview, Entergy CEO Charles Rice said his firm has asked developers to submit plans for drawing up to 100 megawatts from rooftop solar panels — a move he and other officials said shows the utility’s commitment to renewable energy. They already have a one-megawatt solar plant in New Orleans East.

The problem with depending on large-scale solar power is that it’s only reliable on sunny days, Rice said.

“If we are not allowed to build this plant, we will have to rely on market power purchases,” which can fluctuate in price, he said. He also said that a study Entergy commissioned did not find any proof that the Michoud plant caused subsidence. 

Residents Darryl Brown, Alicia Plummer Clivens and Charles Thomas were among those who supported Entergy’s plan Monday.

“We have no opposition to the Entergy plant,” said Clivens, of the New Orleans East Business Association. “The company has always been a good corporate citizen to New Orleans East.”

One resident who had criticized the plant — Ed Blouin of the Village de l’Est Neighborhood Association — said he would support the move if Entergy creates a community advisory board and is transparent about the plant’s conditions.

Entergy is holding two other public meetings on the issue this week. The first is Tuesday at Epiphany Missionary Baptist Church Sanctuary, 5200 Cannes St. The second is Wednesday at Apostolic Outreach Center Sanctuary, 8358 Lake Forest Blvd. Both meetings begin at 6 p.m.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.