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Entergy New Orleans Executives Walk Out Of Heated Meeting; Council To Review, Audit Utility

Deanna Rodriguez
A screenshot of Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez giving her opening remarks to City Council, Wednesday.

After the powerful Hurricane Ida knocked power out for New Orleans and southeast Louisiana, resulting in evacuations after landfall and even multiple fatalities, the City Council and angry residents took Entergy New Orleans to task Wednesday for their response during the storm’s aftermath.

The City Council voted unanimously on seven measures that will review and audit the city’s utility after their system failed to rebound and left residents in the dark for days, even weeks. The council will also consider adding an additional consultant to advise them on utility matters. The current consultant, Clinton Vince, a Washington D.C. attorney of Dentons law firm, has been the city's consultant since 1983.

ENO, the only Fortune 500 company with its headquarters located in the city, said a day before the meeting that moving its headquarters out of New Orleans could be an option. The remark was in a media plan accidentally sent to Councilmember Helena Moreno, who shared the error on Twitter.

"Please stop acting like a victim," Moreno told the three representatives of ENO, including CEO Deanna Rodriguez, during her opening remarks. "We're not the bullies, and we're not trying to run anyone out of town. We just want you to do your job for the ratepayers."

The city council has a unique job of regulating an investor-owned utility company. Washington D.C. is the only other city in the U.S. that operates like this.

Several councilmembers questioned Rodriguez about her company's lack of investment into undergrounding electrical lines, which the council advocated for several years ago. The procedure is expensive but can be more effective in withstanding some calamitous weather events, some energy experts say.

Citing a study done by the utility a few years ago, Entergy officials said they don’t believe undergrounding electrical lines is the answer.

"Undergrounding isn't necessarily the silver bullet that it intuitively seems like it would be,” said Courtney Nicholson, ENO's Vice President of Regulatory Affairs. “What the study found is that undergrounding gets risky because when an underground line fails, the restoration time can be longer."

"I don't buy y'alls answer on that," retorted Councilmember Kristin G. Palmer, who questioned the validity of the study that Nicholson drew from memory.

The meeting moved from the Council questioning the three members of ENO on their presentation to allowing the public to comment. Rodriguez and her associates then excused themselves from the table.

As online comments began to be read on, it was soon realized that the ENO executives had left the meeting altogether and were called back by the council members after a 20-minute absence.

"I'm new in this role and did not know I was expected to stay," said Rodriguez.

In New Orleans, the power outages lasted around a week and forced residents to fund pricey evacuations or sweat it out and wait for the linemen to connect their homes back to the grid. The power failure in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida, one of the strongest and most dangerous storms to hit the state in recorded history, is indirectly responsible for 11 of the 14 deaths, with nine deaths coming from excessive heat and two from carbon monoxide poisoning involving generators.

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