New Orleans gets its power mostly from outside the city limits. That doesn’t include some self-generated power, including a small solar unit that is a positive harbinger of more renewable energy down the road.
But in the here and now, New Orleans remains dependent on transmission lines from other Entergy power plants. Among other things, the drainage pumps that keep New Orleans from flooding — most of the time — depend on Entergy sources as well as the much-discussed century-old power plant in Carrollton, owned by the Sewerage and Water Board.
Reliability, the latter is not, lately.
We are all wondering how much rain we get, before the streets are flooded like they were on Aug. 5.
Transmission lines are not creosote polls in the ground but big facilities, but hurricanes can interrupt power to the Crescent City: That happened with Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Fortunately for the city, the old Michoud plant was still in operation, helping to avoid the severe blackouts in Baton Rouge and elsewhere that year.
We believe that Entergy New Orleans is right to pursue a new power plant with cleaner-burning natural gas in New Orleans East, but there has been pushback. Costs are always an issue, as nearly 200,000 ratepayers will foot the bill over time, but there is also an unrealistic hope that some other alternatives will come along.
Perhaps if Americans invested a trillion dollars or more into an entirely new and more efficient cross-country electric grid, New Orleans might not be as isolated — on the Gulf of Mexico, at the end of the transmission line. Or that alternative energy sources could be as cheaply and readily available as natural gas, another unrealistic assumption.
The choice has narrowed to two plans, a 226-megawatt power plant that would run on natural gas at the site of the former Michoud plant on Old Gentilly Road. It would cost about $232 million, to be paid by customers. For the most part, the new plant would sit idle, except during hours of peak demand or in an emergency, but we see it as the better option because it provides over the coming decades a source of power for the city’s future growth.
A scaled-back 128-megawatt plant is also proposed, but it costs almost as much, in part because at the City Council’s request it would include a feature allowing officials to quickly start the plant up in case other power sources were cut off in a storm.
Thus, not much difference in cost, and the smaller unit would be built in part because of the need for hurricanes, for which there is usually plenty of notice?
The bigger option is probably the better one, if the city is looking toward the longer future.