One hundred New Orleans homeowners will soon have solar panels installed on their rooftops at no cost under a trial program by Entergy New Orleans aimed at increasing the use of renewable electricity and helping residents save money on their electricity bills.
The panels, which will be paid for and maintained by Entergy, will be installed in the coming weeks on the homes of low- to moderate-income residents who qualify, utility officials said this week.
Those residents will receive a guaranteed $30 credit on their monthly bills as a result, regardless of how much the sun shines.
The pilot program is aimed at gauging how well such an effort might work on a broader scale as Entergy tries to add more renewables to its mix of energy sources used to generate electricity.
"Entergy New Orleans is committed to adding renewable energy," CEO David Ellis said in a video touting the program's benefits. "The residential rooftop solar program not only supports that commitment; it also helps low-income customers at the same time."
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The scale of the pilot program is small, as it will likely involve less than a single megawatt of solar power. Entergy has more than 500 megawatts of generating capacity in all, making use mostly of natural gas with some nuclear energy and a small amount of coal.
However, the City Council, which regulates the utility, has been pushing it to increase its use of solar power. And the utility has been slowly adding to its solar capacity in recent years.
After it opened a 1-megawatt pilot solar facility near Chef Menteur Highway three years ago — its first effort to produce solar power — the utility pledged to add up to 100 megawatts of solar to rooftops in and outside of the city.
Entergy has since committed to install 90 megawatts of solar power both within and outside of New Orleans. The utility is also working on a 5 megawatt self-build solar project on various rooftops owned by Entergy and other companies.
Already, Entergy has installed roughly 2.5 megawatts of capacity on warehouse rooftops near the Industrial Canal, in addition to a smaller array of solar panels on one of its own buildings.
Entergy has also partnered with the Regional Transit Authority to install panels on the roof of a streetcar barn in Carrollton, which by the end of the year is expected to feed more than 530,000 kilowatts of electric power per year into the utility's power system.
In addition, a "community solar" program recently approved by the City Council would allow renters or others who can't install solar panels on their roofs to "subscribe" to a certain amount of solar electricity provided by Entergy or another company and receive bill credits each month in exchange.
The latest Entergy effort will help the company meet its commitment to the council.
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The panels will be owned, installed and maintained by Entergy. The utility can remove them with 90 days' notice at any point.
To be eligible, customers must own and occupy their homes full-time, have Entergy accounts in good standing and have roofs that are in good condition.
Entergy didn't specify who qualifies as a "low- to moderate-income" customer. A spokeswoman said the company will confer with low-income advocacy groups and compare household incomes of applicants to the city's median income to determine eligibility.
In 2018, the median area income for a family of four was $65,600. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development generally defines low- to moderate-income households as those that make less than that.
The first customer under the program, Johnny C. Roberts Jr., 60, received his solar panels in December.
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"They came out and they did a remarkable job" with installation, Roberts said in a video on Entergy's site.
Ellis added that the program is important to Entergy's work to build "a sustainable energy future" for the city.
“We want to thank our customers for coming along on this journey with us as we continue to build the utility of the future," he said.
Editor's Note, 3/8/19: This story was updated to reflect the contents of Entergy's most recent application to the City Council.