An investigation of Entergy New Orleans' role in a scheme to pay actors to voice support for their plans to build a new power plant omits evidence showing the corporation did not pay or authorize those actors to be paid, Entergy Corp. executives charged Tuesday.
Entergy Corp.'s claim comes a day after the New Orleans City Council released a copy of a probe into Entergy New Orleans' involvement in the paid actors scheme. That investigation concluded that Entergy "knew or should have known that such conduct occurred or might reasonably would occur," based on evidence the utility provided.
The investigation was conducted at the council's request by attorneys from the firm of Sher, Garner, Cahill, Richter, Klein and Hilbert, and by retired Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Calvin Johnson.
The New Orleans City Council will seek $5 million in fines from Entergy New Orleans to sanction the company for its use of paid actors at publ…
But the parent company said the experts missed key evidence, though it did not detail the nature of that evidence.
“We received a copy of the report," said Neal Kirby, an Entergy Corp. spokesman. "Upon initial review, we take exception to certain characterizations and omission of key facts from the report, including specific evidence Entergy provided that confirms it did not pay, nor did it authorize any other person or entity to pay, individuals to attend or speak at council meetings.”
Entergy New Orleans, which is regulated by the council, has claimed it did not know that its contractor, the Hawthorn Group of Virginia, would partner with Crowds on Demand, a California firm that specializes in "PR stunts," to find professional actors to swell the ranks of those supporting the new plant.
It has also claimed not to know that people would be paid, though it did say it paid the Hawthorn Group to recruit specific numbers of supporters who would speak at the council meetings.
The paid actors praised the utility's plans for the new power plant in New Orleans East at meetings in October 2017 and February 2018.
The results of the council's third-party investigation released Monday night indicate that ENO's then-CEO, Charles Rice, actually asked for more actors than first proposed. The report says Rice exchanged text messages and emails with Entergy executive Yolanda Pollard two weeks before a public hearing in October 2017, asking, "How is Hawthorn looking getting people to the hearing?"
Pollard replied that the group said it would get 50 people and 10 speakers there. Rice responded, "Hell I would pay for more if they can get them," followed by "If Hawthorn can get more people I will pay."
“This is war and we need all the foot shoulders [soldiers] we can muster," Rice said, per the report.
During a meeting, Pollard texted Rice to ask what he thought of the turnout.
"Looks fabulous," Rice said.
Entergy was seeking approval to build a new natural gas-fired power plant to replace the steam-generated plant in New Orleans East that it closed in 2016. It said the new plant would be a needed and efficient local power source, a view the council endorsed when it approved the plan 6-1 in March.
But clean-energy advocates said Entergy should rely less on fossil fuels and more on renewable energy sources. And the revelations in May about paid actors sparked a public outcry and roiled the whole process.
In August, the parent company, Entergy Corp., demoted Rice to a position in the company's legal department. Entergy has also taken other steps to address public criticisms.
City Council President Jason Williams will convene a special meeting on Wednesday at 1 p.m. to receive the report and hear testimony from the investigators.