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Electrical linemen from Bright Start Solution work on a utility line at the intersection of Flannery and Fall River Drive Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. Linemen crews have been trying to restore power to communities stricken by Hurricane Ida Sunday.

The vast majority of the greater Baton Rouge area should be back in air conditioning and light by Wednesday, Sept. 8, said the head of Entergy Louisiana on Thursday.

Most of Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes were slated to be powered up Thursday. East and West Feliciana parishes go back online Friday, according to reports given by the utility companies to the Louisiana Public Service Commission.

“Even though we do have that significant damage, we are able to provide our first estimated restoration time and that is we expect to have the vast majority of customers in the greater Baton Rouge area restored by Wednesday, Sept. 8th. Now there will be pockets – due to rear lot issues access and vegetation – ” won't get their power back as quickly, said Phillip May, president and chief operating officer of Entergy Louisiana, which covers most of the state outside of the City of New Orleans. Entergy New Orleans, a separate subsidiary, provides power in Orleans Parish.

“I’m talking vast majority, most, customers will be on,” May added.

Most residences and businesses in Ascension and Livingston parishes are expected to be repowered by Tuesday, Sept. 7, according to the PSC. But for the eastern parts of those parishes, which were closer to the core of Hurricane Ida, it’ll take longer, May said.

Entergy and the other utilities have been criticized for not coming up with timelines, which they call customer guidance, faster.

Louisiana Public Service Commission Chairman Craig Greene said he’s been getting calls from constituents who want a rough estimate of how long their power will be out. Should they leave town? Go to a hotel? Find alternative schooling for the children. The five elected PSC Commissioners regulate utility companies.

“People can survive and endure better if they know what to expect. Hours? Days? Weeks? We all just want to know,” Greene said.

In earlier storms, the utility companies released restoration plans a couple days after the storm passed. With Hurricane Ida, assessments really couldn’t begin until Monday afternoon. Telecommunications were down, and the size of the storm all made it more difficult for the engineers to get out and see what problem was, much less come up with a plan to fix it. The PSC accepts those reasons, but not happily.

“We are frustrated with the lack of information,” said PSC Secretary Brandon Frey. Commissioners still want recovery timelines for Orleans, upper Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. James, and Assumption parishes – that haven’t been forthcoming. The assessments are not as far along in those harder-hit regions, Entergy says.

The damage is so severe in lower Jefferson, lower Assumption, Lafourche, Terrebonne, and Plaquemines parishes that the electricity powering residents and businesses there will be out for weeks.

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All eight of the bulk transmission lines going into New Orleans failed during the storm. Transmission lines carry electricity from the generating plants, many of which are along the Mississippi River, to neighborhood substations where the power stepped down to lower voltages for distribution to customers. Several of the generating plants are along the Mississippi River.

“We are lighting up transmission corridor as we speak. We are clearing the obstacles. We are making repairs,” May said.

The PSC reports that 58 of the structures that carry the transmission lines were destroyed and 185 were damaged. (That compares to 1,450 structures destroyed by Hurricane Laura last year.) May said Entergy has 41 of 168 damaged substations back online.

Entergy connected a transmission line from Slidell into New Orleans and started the process of repowering the city. Some question that the method Entergy is using takes too long.

May said turning the lights back on in a system that has gone completely black, isn’t as easy flipping a switch. The utility is building electricity load sequentially from breaker to breaker until the region is powered up again.

Baton Rouge’s issue is more the city’s tree canopy. Though prized civically, the number of shade trees wreak havoc on the poles and distribution lines that deliver electricity to residences and businesses.

About 160,410 Baton Rouge customers were without power Monday morning that was down to 92,864 by Thursday morning – still more than half out of power.

May was in his Baton Rouge place when his home lost power Sunday. “The first problem we had was trees on a transmission line. That has been fixed. Now we have trees on distribution lines those are yet to be fixed,” May said.

Entergy is first reconnecting “critical infrastructure,” such as hospitals, water pumps and the like, May said. Then, grocery stores, pharmacies, gasoline stations and other services.

“Then it becomes nothing but a numbers game,” he said. Engineers weigh how difficult the repair and how many lights will come back on.

“If I can get 2,000 customers on by doing this job, versus 20 customers doing this other job, we’re to go after the 2,000 first,” May said.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.