Council committee proposes several accountability measures related to Entergy and Hurricane Ida
It has been over three weeks since Hurricane Ida cut off all power to New Orleans and left much of the city in the dark for over a week. And since then questions have arisen among residents and officials about the resilience of the city’s energy system and the performance of the city’s monopoly electric utility, Entergy New Orleans.
In a busy meeting on Wednesday, the city council’s utilities committee proposed several measures to address these questions. All have yet to go to the full council for a final vote.
Committee members voted in favor of launching an investigation into Ida’s outages, an audit of the management of Entergy New Orleans, and a study exploring alternatives to monopoly ownership of utilities in ‘Entergy New Orleans. Two other measures call on state and federal regulators to conduct their own investigations into failures in the regional transportation network that New Orleans relies on.
The committee also brought forward a resolution to delay implementation of a $ 25 per year increase in New Orleans electricity bills that the company was seeking before Hurricane Ida.
Hurricane Ida caused massive damage to New Orleans’ power grid. The city-wide blackout began when the storm destroyed all eight regional transmission lines entering the city. The local distribution system, meanwhile, also suffered considerable damage, twice as much as in any previous storm, according to Entergy officials.
For years, residents and regulators have accused Entergy of failing to invest adequately in the region’s electricity grid and of failing to plan for an era where climate change is making storms more frequent and severe. For some, Ida was further proof that the company is not doing enough.
The storm also called into question the usefulness of the New Orleans Power Plant, a gas plant in eastern New Orleans that went into service last year.
One of the plant’s selling points is that it would be vital to restore power in a scenario where a storm damages all transmission lines entering the city. This is exactly what happened during Hurricane Ida, but the factory was not used as described. And the company explanation why it was not used as described has raised doubts about the realization of the benefits promised by the factory.
Perhaps the item on Wednesday’s agenda that received the most attention was the proposed study on the ownership of utilities. In her opening remarks on Wednesday, councilor and president of utilities Helena Moreno stressed that the study was a very initial step that only aimed to expose the city’s options.
“It is not an incentive for municipalization,” she said. “It’s not pressure for a new business to come in. It’s not pressure for a nonprofit to run the public service. We haven’t done the study. We don’t know what will and what will not work. But the people of this city who have asked these questions about the feasibility of these options should have an answer. “
Moreno accused Entergy executives at Wednesday’s meeting of using the utility ownership study as an opportunity to try to change regulators.
“Your PR campaign strategy around today’s meeting was never focused on the very serious issues on the agenda, like what happened during Ida,” he said. she declared. “Entergy’s PR planning around this meeting was about a property survey. “
Tuesday, Entergy sent a press release which presented several options for how the ownership structure of New Orleans utilities might change. The company said its preferred choice was to merge with Entergy Louisiana and transfer regulation of the company from the New Orleans City Council to the Louisiana Civil Service Commission.
“What Big Entergy probably wanted to talk about with this study was to justify the change in the regulators of Entergy New Orleans,” Moreno said.
Moreno had additional insight in Entergy’s PR strategy because the company sent him its PR strategy surrounding Wednesday’s meeting, presumably by accident. One of the talking points was that a change in the ownership of the city’s utilities could force Entergy Corporation to consider moving its headquarters out of New Orleans. It is caused some concern on the economic consequences of losing the only Fortune 500 company in New Orleans.
Moreno berated Entergy New Orleans on Wednesday for responding to the council’s accountability measures “with threats and public relations tricks.”
“Please stop acting like you are the victim,” she said. “All I’ve ever wanted from this company, as chair of this utilities committee, is for you all to do your jobs. “
Executives at Entergy New Orleans also clashed with the board as they left the building after a short opening presentation, before any public comment was heard, and before the board considered any of the motions and resolutions on Wednesday’s agenda.
The board ended up calling Entergy CEO Deanna Rodriguez and asking her to come back to the meeting. Rodriguez returned about half an hour later. Rodriguez told council she continued to watch the meeting live.
“I’m new to this role,” she said. “I didn’t know I had to stay. I’m glad to be here.”