Entergy continues fight for new power plant

Jules Lydon

The ongoing city-wide debate about power supply for the city may soon have an answer.

The question of how the city of New Orleans can boost power, primarily for the purpose of powering an overwhelmed drainage system, has consumed mayoral election forums and city council debates for months, but now the city is revisiting the possibility of a new Entergy power plant in New Orleans East which could solve the problem once and for all.

Over the summer, Entergy New Orleans looked back at a plan to build a $216 million, 226 megawatt power plant on Gentilly Road to replace the currently closed Michoud Entergy power plant.

According to Entergy, “Michoud was shut down before Katrina made landfall in anticipation of storm surges and flooding in the New Orleans area. Since that time, clean-up and repairs have been underway: the facility suffered more than $17 million in damage from flooding (up to six feet) and wind (sustained winds of 88 miles per hour).”

The Michoud plant was the only source of electric power generation inside city limits. Though Hurricane Katrina may have happened more than 10 years ago, this is another attempt to continue revitalizing the city after its destruction in 2005.

The original plan to rebuild began in June of 2016 and has continued since. Entergy expected an answer from the City Council by Jan. 31, 2017 but after introducing its second proposal to reduce the original 226 megawatt plant to 128 megawatt, the vote was delayed further to February.

Several press conferences took place over the summer of 2017, which allowed Entergy to explain the environmental benefits of the 128 megawatt plant, hear public concerns from New Orleans East residents and converse with environmental groups. The company claims the new plant should satisfy future electricity demands to counter potential power surges during New Orleans’ summer months and after hurricanes.

Entergy stands as the only major electricity provider in New Orleans and serves approximately 198,000 electric customers and 106,000 natural gas customers. Since Entergy is headquartered in New Orleans, there are a total of 6,000 direct and indirect employees including 2,200 total Entergy employees and 400 Entergy New Orleans employees. Entergy pays $800 million in annual local spending including payroll, purchases, services, taxes and contributions.

Bob Thomas, Loyola chairman of environmental communications, stated that the issue itself is “being framed interestingly and framed in a very good way for the long term. People are saying, ‘don’t build us another Entergy plant based on hydrocarbon fuels, build us infrastructure for sustainable energy.’”

The counterargument against the plant is that it will pollute neighborhoods, contribute to subsidence in New Orleans East and continue to allow Entergy to dodge investment in solar and other renewable energy.

Entergy currently has invested in solar energy but not much in Louisiana.

“As the song says, it never rains in southern California. What makes environmental and economic sense in other states and countries does not make environmental and economic sense for New Orleans,” Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice said.

The decision to allow a new plant is complex both economically and environmentally. Although the new plant could offer more jobs and is more sustainable as a smaller plant, environmentalists and New Orleans East locals are still concerned that it isn’t as sustainable as possible.

The New Orleans City Council plans to reconvene on the issue for a vote sometime in February 2018. If the vote passes for the 226 megawatt plant, it would be functioning by November 2020. If the 128 megawatt plant passes, it would run by October 2019.