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While the Central City neighborhood is still dark in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, the Caesar Superdome is lite in New Orleans Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

One of the silver linings of being without power for several days is that neighbors sit outside and visit, rather than cocoon in air conditioning and Netflix.

A retired neighbor sat on the porch saying that he just might buy a whole-house generator. Used to be that hurricanes knocked the power off for a week every few years. Didn't make fiscal sense to spend $20,000 not to sweat for a week or two every few years.

The calculus has changed.

He ticked off four extended outages in Baton Rouge during the past 12 months: Twice last summer with two of the eight hurricanes that impacted Louisiana, in February with the unprecedented cold snap, and now with Hurricane Ida.

The system came ashore at Port Fourchon clocking 150 miles-per-hour winds Sunday. Cutting a swath 150 miles wide, Ida traveled slowly north between the La. 1 communities along the Bayou Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish, then hovered over LaPlace for several hours, before continuing through the Florida Parishes.

By Thursday, the remnants of Ida cut off power and dropped three inches of rain in an hour in New York City — seven inches overall — killing more people there than in Louisiana.

President Joe Biden took Ida as further evidence of global warming.

“The past few days of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires in the West and unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here,” President Joe Biden said Thursday. “We need to do — be better prepared. We need to act.”

Baton Rouge is more linked to the oil and gas industry than Washington, D.C., so the bit about the earth’s temperatures rising because of man-made pollutants fell on deaf ears. But the other part of his argument — we need to be better prepared — found the beginnings of a change of heart from my elderly neighbor who generally hates all things Biden.

At the beginning of the week my neighbor agreed with Lafayette Republican Congressman Clay Higgins’ description of the “socialist horror buried within the 2,700 pages” of the president’s $1.1 trillion bill to improve infrastructure. Five days of no air conditioning, however, softened my neighbor's hard opposition to spending money on keeping the electrical system delivering power during storms.

Hurricane Ida took out 58 of the very expensive structures that transmit power from the generating plants, where electricity is made, to the substations that distribute power to homes and businesses. Another 185 transmission structures were damaged as were maybe 150 substations.

All eight of the bulk transmission lines carrying electricity into New Orleans failed. Almost everyone in the New Orleans metro area lost power. About two-thirds homes and businesses in the Baton Rouge region went dark. Refineries didn’t have enough electricity to make gasoline. Gas stations didn’t have power to pump the fuel.

Among the $1.1 trillion expenditures listed in the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” are at least $26.5 billion for “enhancing the resilience of the electric grid to extreme weather and natural disasters.” Grants are to be distributed based on the number of federally declared natural disasters a state experienced over the last 10 years. Another $18.5 billion is for transmission buildout to “maintain reliability” and $3 billion more would provide flexibility to rebalance a damaged electrical system and get power back online more quickly. Then there are corporate tax breaks and money from other pots that can be used on building a power system that doesn’t topple in heavy summer breezes.

The U.S. Senate passed the bill on Aug. 10. The U.S. House is scheduled to vote in three weeks, on Sept. 27.

Despite Ida’s impact on Louisiana’s comfort and economy, the only member of the Louisiana delegation supporting Biden’s infrastructure package is U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, a fellow Democrat whose district straddles parts of New Orleans and Baton Rouge with the River Parishes in between, an area whacked hard by Ida. The other supporter is Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, whose Baton Rouge home was repowered Wednesday night. He helped negotiate the legislation.

Republican Congressman Garret Graves, whose Baton Rouge home was without power for much of last week, characteristically won’t say where he stands.

Though much of Louisiana remains in the dark, the rest of the state’s congressmen have openly opposed Biden’s bill.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.