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As New Orleans experiences sky-high energy bills, Entergy says it will suspend utility shut offs

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New Orleans City Council Livestream
Chair of the Utility, Cable, Telecommunications and Technology Committee, JP Morrell.

As many New Orleans residents face skyrocketing energy bills amid the heat of the summer, Entergy New Orleans verbally agreed to suspend customer utility shut offs through Nov. 1 at a City Council committee meeting on Tuesday.

The announcement by Entergy executives comes at the request of the City Council, which serves as the regulator for Entergy New Orleans, the city’s major energy utility. Council members penned a letter to a top Entergy executive Monday, saying that bills have hit “unaffordable levels,” and vulnerable and elderly residents are subject to dangerous temperatures if they can’t pay.

It’s unclear when the moratorium will start — the Council’s Utility, Cable, Telecommunications and Technology Committee passed the resolution for the moratorium Tuesday, and will vote on it at its next full Council meeting on Aug. 4.

While praising the company for providing some relief for residents struggling to afford high bills, Council members noted that the measure is just a way to triage larger problems plaguing the utility’s relationship with the city.

A moratorium means customers’ lights – and air conditioning – won’t get disconnected until the measure lifts this fall. But Council members stressed that customers will still be on the hook for bills in November, and encouraged residents to pay what they can for now, to keep their arrears low.

“The moratorium is not a win. It’s a stop-gap measure,” said Council Vice President JP Morrell, who chairs the utility committee.

Entergy New Orleans President and CEO Deanna Rodriguez presented additional steps ENO’s parent company will take to address the stress of high bills, including a $10 million contribution “to help low income customers” manage bills, as well as waiving late fees for those customers.

But when Council President Helena Moreno asked Rodriguez to clarify who might be eligible for these measures, the Entergy executive said the company was not ready to provide details.

Moreno also asked the company representatives when the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, which provides power to the city and is currently experiencing an unplanned outage, will come back online.

Entergy executives did not provide an answer to that question, but noted that while the facility is unavailable, the company must rely on getting energy from outside sources — which can ultimately raise prices for customers.

“Grand Gulf being down means that there’s more reliance on natural gas prices, which are high at this moment,” one representative said.

A representative for Total Community Action, a group that receives government funding to help residents cover their energy bills, said the organization has been flooded with requests this summer and is not taking new applications because they are at capacity.

Jesse George, the New Orleans Policy Director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy, commented that the moratorium is a welcome short-term solution, but urged the Council and the utility to consider more sweeping changes, noting the failure of the company’s gas-fueled power plant during Hurricane Ida.

“We need longer-term solutions, and that has to include looking at an aggressive transition away from fossil fuels,” he said.

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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