Given the controversy surrounding Entergy New Orleans, the New Orleans City Council should resist grandstanding and keep its eyes on what’s best for the public.
Its members are mulling a report about lobbying activities by the city’s regulated power utility. Investigators concluded that Entergy senior managers acted with indifference toward rumors that a subcontractor the utility hired to drum up support for a new power plant paid actors to pose as fans of the project.
The report noted that Entergy management compared the approval process to war. If so, they won the battle when the council approved construction of a 128-megawatt gas plant, which would provide the first locally generated power since an older facility was decommissioned in 2016.
The idea for a new plant won the day because it could provide power at peak usage times that neither longline transmission nor local renewable sources could guarantee. Additionally, in emergencies such as after a disaster, the plant could quickly generate power for critical needs. That's why the council signed off on the $210 million cost of the plant, which will be billed to ratepayers over 30 years.
The writers for HBO’s satirical show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” might want to get a weekend place in Louisiana. They’ve certainly fi…
Then media reports uncovered Entergy's antics. Egged on by excitable environmentalists who had opposed the plant, the petulant council fined Entergy $5 million. Some members of the council, who might need neck braces for the whiplash they suffered by their about-faces, expressed interest in revisiting the issue.
Council member Jason Williams, perhaps sensing an early chance to play to the crowd since announcing a run for district attorney, proclaimed, “As a person who voted in favor of this plant … we still need to have a conversation about whether we need to have another vote.” But only eight months earlier, he had noted that elected officials needed “to look beyond a sound bite, to look beyond the emotion of a decision and to look at every fact,” to justify a reluctant vote in favor of the plant.
The council should heed that advice. Regardless of Entergy’s tactics, nothing has changed about the wisdom of choosing the plant. Setting aside the unsubstantiated hysteria whipped up by the environmentalist Chicken Littles about the clean-burning replacement plant, opponents simply cannot credibly argue that solar and wind power can fulfill peak demand — especially when Entergy continues to have trouble meeting a 100-megawatt commitment to renewable energy.
Also, outside transmission lines will never be as reliable as a hometown source. And once the next major storm strikes the city, good luck with receiving that power through downed longlines and collecting it from damaged wind turbines and broken solar panels.
If the kerfuffle has done anything, it's kept attention away from the shameful behavior of some of the gas plant’s opposition. The wealthy donors and limousine liberals behind groups such as the Alliance for Affordable Energy and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade used scare tactics on lower-income people to make them props in attempting to sidetrack the fossil fuel solution.
Maybe these elites can afford what their much more expensive preferred options would mean for consumers’ bills. The latest 2016 federal government data show construction costs for onshore wind would be almost twice as expensive as for natural gas, and solar photovoltaic nearly three times higher. The families these environmental groups exploited sure can’t foot the price.
Council members should avoid acting as demagogues over this issue. Even if Entergy behaved questionably, using that as motivation to reverse the decision just helps special interests and doesn't serve New Orleanians.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com and writes about Louisiana legislation at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.