The New Orleans City Council, which regulates Entergy New Orleans, has spent much of its time lately contending with the company’s bad-faith hiring of paid actors to impersonate community activists in support of a new gas-fired plant. But that’s not all it’s doing.
The council’s utilities committee, led by Council President Helena Moreno, recently approved a plan for Entergy to build a $42 million solar power plant in New Orleans East. The project, along with purchases from solar plants in Washington and St. James Parishes, would position the utility to add 90 megawatts of renewable energy, a big step toward reaching the city’s stated goal of securing 100 megawatts from renewable sources within the next two years. Under the proposal, which is likely to win approval from the full council, renewables would comprise nearly 10% of Entergy New Orleans’ power generation, a 20-fold increase over its current offerings.
"Not only will (this) create what I believe will be a cleaner, more resilient New Orleans, it also comes with economic benefits in terms of jobs creation, new spending and overall just a boost to our economy," Moreno said.
The move is not a rebuke to the previous council, which approved the contested natural gas turbine facility in a 6-1 vote that did not appear to be influenced by the fake protesters, but a continuation of an effort to diversify the city’s energy sources and focus on clean alternatives. The new power plant will help prevent cascading summer outages and benefit the city during hurricane season, giving it a quick way to get power back online after a storm.
The current council, which includes five members who didn’t participate in the original vote and who arrived in office just in time to investigate the fake activist scandal, voted unanimously in February, after Entergy said it had already spent at least $96 million on the project, to reaffirm the earlier approval and accept a $5 million fine. A judge has since ordered a revote based on Entergy’s behavior during the initial debate, but the council is appealing.
As for the solar initiative, it comes with a slight increase in cost to consumers, about $1.50 a month. And while renewable energy is costlier than conventional sources, the difference is declining. The levelized cost of electricity for solar projects expected to enter service in 2021 will be about 5 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, while it will cost between 4 and 5 cents per kilowatt hour for natural gas conventional and advanced “combined cycle” plants, such as the one Entergy Louisiana recently won approval to build such a plant in Lake Charles.
Despite that, this is good news, not just because of the economic impact, but also because the vulnerability that made building the new gas plant wise has been on display with alarming regularity lately.
More broadly, the rise of extreme weather, which most reputable scientists link to climate change, is causing the city all kinds of problems. Turning toward cleaner sources is not just a local priority but a larger good. It’s fitting that New Orleans should be seeking a good, smart, and forward-thinking mix of solutions.