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Entergy plan to strengthen New Orleans electrical grid delayed; new July deadline set

Entergy New Orleans staff Climate Committee March
New Orleans City Council
Entergy New Orleans Vice President of Regulatory Services Courtney Nicholson and legal counsel Brian Guillot speak to the City Council's Climate committee about its request for more time to craft a comprehensive storm hardening and climate resilience plan on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

A comprehensive plan for hardening New Orleans’ electrical grid and enhancing climate resilience will take more time than initially suggested, according to Entergy New Orleans staff.

In the months after Hurricane Ida knocked power out in much of New Orleans for a week or more, the City Council asked the utility to outline new projects or upgrades that would strengthen the grid against climate risks. Council members hoped the list of projects could be leveraged and compete for federal funding.

That was in late October. The Council initially set a tight deadline, asking for a plan by March 1. Come February, Entergy was granted a 4-month extension by the hearing officer overseeing the regulatory docket. The utility will now have until July 1 to submit the project list.

Entergy New Orleans Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Courtney Nicholson said the delay doesn’t mean the company isn’t taking the plan seriously.

“To the contrary, this has become a critical strategic project for not only Entergy New Orleans, but all of the Entergy operating companies,” she said during Tuesday’s Climate Committee meeting. “We’re all planning to move forward with resiliency projects.”

Entergy New Orleans legal counsel Brian Guillot said the company needs more time to develop its new model for analyzing the projects put forth. It needed to engage experts to create a model capable of considering hundreds of solution sets and storm scenarios that the company hadn’t in the past.

That model, he said, will look at both traditional solutions such as hardening electrical poles and wires, and nontraditional ones such as creating hyperlocal microgrids or adding solar systems with batteries for storing power. It will also allow Entergy to provide a detailed explanation of each project’s cost and benefit as the Council requested.

“It’s just taken more time to develop than the current deadline,” Guillot said.

The extension will also allow time for two technical conferences, where Entergy, the City Council and other stakeholders can come together to discuss how the plan is shaping up.

Nicholson and Guillot said the utility believed the July 1 deadline would still be fast enough to get New Orleans out in front of others vying for federal money. In the meantime, Entergy Louisiana and Entergy New Orleans are doing some hardening of transmission lines crossing the Mississippi River as well as one leading from Slidell to New Orleans that should be completed by this hurricane season.

Those types of projects shouldn’t be excluded from applications to federal agencies for funding either, Councilwoman Helena Moreno said. The Council wants to grab as many federal dollars to keep the cost from going on residents’ bills.

“We need to be thinking outside the box,” Moreno said. “From what I understand there is a lot of flexibility that is going to be available for regions that are prepared and regions that have climate at the forefront.”

The Council was amenable to the delay, though Council Member JP Morrell pressed the need for the company to finish it by July, arguing Entergy shouldn’t need any more extensions.

“I’ll tell you what judges tell me: You get one,” the lawyer said. “If you’re not ready to go in July this will be a very different conversation.”

Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk.

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