We live, it is so often said, in a knowledge economy, a postindustrial world, but in New Orleans and Louisiana it is an invention of the last century that we care most about in the summertime, and that is air conditioning.
That necessity of life requires power, just as much as computers and iPads and cellphones. And in the summer, the power available to Entergy New Orleans at peak times is stretched.
That is why we hope that the New Orleans City Council will think practically on the plans of the utility company to build a new power plant at a Michoud industrial site that will deliver the cool air when it is so desperately needed.
This is a local decision, because as heir to the old New Orleans Public Service Inc., Entergy New Orleans is regulated by the City Council. That makes it an important decision for council members, not the state Public Service Commission or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Entergy New Orleans relies on a combination of natural gas, nuclear power and a small amount of coal to produce electricity, as part of the larger Entergy Corp., a Fortune 500 company. The local company also has a small but innovative new solar plant in the city, but peak loads particularly in summer require potentially costly purchases of electricity outside ENO's system.
As with any additional cost to utility customers, the council ought to look closely at the proposal from Entergy. But the company has made a pretty good case, over many community meetings, that a new and more efficient natural-gas fired plant would be a better long-term deal for ratepayers than the expedient of buying electricity from other sources.
The market rates for those purchases can be volatile. As part of a multistate consortium of utilities, New Orleans gets to buy power, but geographically we’re at the bottom of the country and the electric power grid in the United States leaves much to be desired in terms of efficiency.
Our vulnerability to storms is much less than it was before Hurricane Katrina’s events and the reconstruction of the levee system, but a local power source is likely to be valuable if parts of the transmission grid go down around us.
The new 226 megawatt turbine will use one of the cleaner fuels, natural gas, and the company is confident that today’s low gas prices will continue into the foreseeable future.
New Orleans is growing, and the need for power at peak times is only likely to increase. “Based on the continuing growth of the city, we need this unit,” Charles Rice of Entergy told the editorial board of The New Orleans Advocate.
While we look forward to the day that renewable sources of energy like solar will be a much larger part of the mix for New Orleans and the nation, natural gas is today’s mainstay for generating electricity.
Obviously, the council must scrutinize this proposal, because it is a long-term capital investment by the company, but also a long-term cost on the bills of consumers. We don’t see yet a case to be made that a reliable and local power source in the city isn’t a good investment for the future.