Members of New Orleans' City Council want to make Entergy New Orleans go greener.
The council's Utility Committee on Thursday took the first step in a process that would eventually require Entergy to generate a certain percentage of the electricity it sells using wind, solar or other renewable energy sources.
A resolution, passed unanimously, directed the council's third-party energy consultant to draft for Entergy what's known as a "renewable portfolio standard," a requirement that has been enacted in recent years for utilities in many other cities and U.S. states in an effort to combat the role played by electricity generation in climate change.
In the past, the City Council has urged the utility to add cleaner-burning sources of energy to its portfolio, but council members now want to create a more stringent requirement.
“It is time now to all get on the same page and make clear our goals and demands ... for a cleaner New Orleans, so that even when this council is gone, the path is still certain,” said Councilwoman Helena Moreno, who chairs the committee that regulates Entergy.
The process of creating a renewable standard is just beginning, but the draft standard, due in September, is focused on any additional generating capacity that Entergy adds to its portfolio.
As such, the new mandate is not expected to affect power sources the utility already relies on or is in the process of building, such as the highly controversial natural gas-powered plant in New Orleans East that the council has already approved.
Still, it would set a framework for Entergy’s future investments and make New Orleans the first territory in the Gulf South with such a requirement, putting it in the company of 29 states and Washington, D.C., council members said.
Brian Guillot, vice president of regulatory affairs at Entergy New Orleans, said the company has "a long-standing commitment" to clean energy, adding that Entergy already has plans in the works for 100 megawatts of zero carbon-emitting renewables.
"Our goal is to continue to provide New Orleans with clean, affordable generation, and we look forward to conducting further analysis and filing comprehensive comments regarding the right energy mix for our customers in the future," Guillot said in a prepared statement.
A large portion of the power Entergy supplies to New Orleans already comes from sources that emit little or no carbon dioxide.
As of 2014, about 57 percent of the power it supplied the city was generated via nuclear power. About 18 percent came from natural gas, while 4 percent came from coal-burning plants. The remaining 21 percent is of mixed origin via the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, a nonprofit organization that manages electricity delivery across a wide swath of the middle of the U.S.
Still, Entergy's electricity generation is responsible for the largest chunk of the city's carbon-dioxide emissions, according to city officials, which means that it remains a target for efforts to make additional reductions to the city's overall contribution to global emissions.
Under Entergy's recent commitment to provide up to 100 megawatts of renewables, solar would make up 5 percent of its portfolio, officials have said.
The renewable portfolio standard the council is contemplating could require Entergy to increase the percentage of power it generates from renewable resources by a certain deadline.
Of the 33 other U.S. jurisdictions that have created such a standard, according to council research, Washington, D.C.'s is the most aggressive, requiring 20 percent of power from its utilities to come from renewable sources by next year. Within 12 years, 100 percent of utility power there will need to come from renewables.
About eight states have merely established renewable "goals." Under Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans set a goal to use 100 percent "low carbon" electricity by 2030.
Entergy, with its heavy use of nuclear power, was praised for helping the city get more than halfway to its goal in 2017.
But the latest proposal would hold the utility to stricter rules. The specific investment Entergy would be required to make in renewables and how quickly that investment should occur will be decided in the coming months.
Costs of the new policy were unknown Thursday, although the council will consider whether a flat cap on any new costs associated with the mandate, or some other type of protection for ratepayers, is warranted.
A recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency — an organization of 170 member countries that advocates for greener technologies — found that the cost of generating solar photovoltaic electricity globally has fallen by 73 percent since 2010, and that such technologies should be priced competitively with fossil-fuel generation by next year.
The council also must decide which renewable energy sources will be counted as meeting the standard, and whether Entergy can satisfy the mandate by paying renewable energy companies for the power those companies already produce.
Clean-energy advocates spoke in favor Thursday of the latter option, and of the idea of a mandate in general.
Moreno, for her part, called earlier this week for "all" of Entergy's power to eventually come from carbon-free sources, a move she said would be a "climate game-changer for our city and our region moving forward."
And Councilman Jason Williams said any mandate that establishes a clear timeline for movement by Entergy would stop the utility from dragging its feet.
"If we don’t make it clear that something has to be done" by a certain date, he said, "you get to those dates and nothing has been done, and you have to wait another two years."