The New Orleans City Council soon willdecide whether to allow the local Entergy affiliate to build a new electric power plant in New Orleans East. The proposed “peaking plant” would provide New Orleanians with immediate power during periods of greatest demand - on the hottest days of summer, during hard freezes, and after severe weather events such as hurricanes. The council has been studying this issue for almost two years, and its Utilities Committee is scheduled to make a recommendation next Wednesday (Feb. 21). The full council will likely decide the issue next month.
Entergy New Orleans (ENO) wants to build a 226-megawatt facility, which local utility watchdog the Alliance for Affordable Energy rightly criticizes as inappropriate. In the face of this and other criticism, ENO has proposed an alternate 128-megawatt facility. The Alliance opposes this plan as well, suggesting that the council force ENO to use alternative energy sources - particularly solar power.
For most of the past century, the council has regulated ENO and its predecessors. Council members in recent decades have done a good job of holding the local utility’s feet to the fire - thanks largely to a battery of technical and legal advisors who have helped them navigate the arcane waters of utility regulation. In the present matter, the council’s advisors unanimously recommend approval of the smaller plant, which is roughly one-fifth the size of the old Michoud generating station. We agree, and we likewise agree with the consultants’ recommendation that ENO invest heavily in alternative power sources (including solar) and upgrades to its distribution system.
[jump] When the old Michoud facility was decommissioned, New Orleans found itself with no local generating station. This should be a critical factor in the council’s decision. Our city literally sits at the tail end of the interstate transmission lines on which New Orleanians rely for electric power. If those interstate lines - the closest of which must cross the Mississippi River to reach local ratepayers - should go down during a storm, New Orleans could literally be in the dark. Moreover, New Orleanians need access to reliable, affordable, locally available electricity during peak demand days.
Clinton Vince, the council’s lead utilities advisor - who has successfully represented the council and local ratepayers against ENO and others for more than three decades - put it this way: “The City Council is faced with a stark choice between reliable electricity for its constituents and the unacceptable risk of cascading outages and blackouts. The city does not have a reliable local source of all-weather, fast-start generation that can serve the city at peak times and after severe storms or disruption to the utility’s transmission system. The proposed plant’s technology has been used successfully around the country and is considered clean, economical, reliable and safe. New Orleans does not need blackouts to become the ‘boil water alerts’ of the next decade.”
We would love to see the city be able to rely more heavily on solar and other forms of alternative energy, but until that day comes the council must make sure New Orleans has access to a local source of power during peak times - and all times if need be.