Critics say utility wants to maximize profits and works to undermine regional power sharing model.
The idea behind the regional sharing model is to protect customers from major outages during ever-intensifying storms by delivering cheaper, more reliable electricity from other parts of the country. But former regulators and energy consultants say Entergy has never embraced the idea and, in some cases, works to undermine it so it can avoid competition.
By Andy Kowalczyk
As New Orleanians sat in the dark for days or evacuated our homes, it seemed like everyone was asking one question: how did the grid fail so dramatically in our city and throughout Louisiana? And how did the grid go down not only this summer during Hurricane Ida, but also in February during Winter Storm Uri?
The sad fact is that our electric utility Entergy's behavior, and the attitudes of many consultants and regulators in Southern states, has followed a standard of profit-seeking and neglect for the transmission system.
Nearly a decade ago, Entergy Corporation -- along with its subsidiary companies throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi -- began an experiment. The premise was to incorporate a company with vast market power, to join an organization whose priority is to plan a more affordable and reliable energy system, called the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). The plan looked good on paper, given that Entergy was under U.S. Department of Justice antitrust investigation. The DOJ had voiced serious concerns about the utility’s anticompetitive business practices, and suggested that Entergy join a Regional Transmission Organization, that could encourage greater cooperation with other utilities, power generation owners, and stakeholders throughout the South and the Midwest. But without following through on a recommendation from the DOJ for Entergy to sell off its transmission business to a transmission-only company, it remained to be seen whether the grid would continue to be run for profit, or public good.
NEW ORLEANS – Sept. 14, 2021 – The coalition Energy Future New Orleans (EFNO) is calling on the New Orleans City Council to hold Entergy accountable for its mismanagement and neglect of rusting and aging equipment which led to a city-wide power outage following Hurricane Ida, and follows a host of failures by the utility corporation.
Today, attorneys for EFNO members filed a motion with the City Council that seeks:
We’ve been told a lot of things we now know aren’t true, like renewables are too expensive. Climate change isn’t real. If you let us build a new gas plant it will keep the lights on.
Hurricane Ida left hundreds of thousands in southeast Louisiana without power despite years of promises by Entergy that our communities would not have a repeat of power grid failures if they could just build that plant in New Orleans East. We have already learned that the promise of power coming back without outside transmission was false.
Hurricane-driven blackouts in New Orleans send a dire warning about the need for distributed energy by Jeff St. John
Entergy's new gas power plant couldn't stop a grid collapse. Community groups want to give local solar and batteries a chance.
Utilities are paid a guaranteed rate of return on capital investments including power plants, giving them an incentive to convince regulators to approve big power plants rather than enabling customer-sited distributed energy such as rooftop solar.
For Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, this failure to prioritize community resilience in the face of deadly storms is “beyond frustrating.” Burke said in a Monday phone call, “Had we taken the time and initiative to plan for distributed generation, distributed solar-plus-storage and more energy efficiency, people would be more prepared to shelter safely and comfortably.”
A year-long study by U.S. Department of Energy labs found that microgrids in New Orleans could offer critical “lifeline support” to gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential neighborhood services.
As the Gulf South rebuilds following Hurricane Ida, we know people across the region will need help, including funding for lodging, food, basic necessities, and even gas money. There are incredible organizations working to move funds to the ground immediately. We trust the following folks:
Entergy seeks $25 per month rate increase while pandemic rages, Council must freeze rates to protect ratepayers
By Jesse George, New Orleans Policy Director, AAE
On Friday, July 16, 2021, Entergy New Orleans (“ENO”) submitted a formal application to the New Orleans City Council (“the Council”) requesting an increase in electric and gas rates, citing shortfalls in revenue, despite its parent company, Entergy Corporation, reporting record profits of almost $1.4B in 2020. If the Council grants ENO’s request, average residential ratepayers would see an increase of approximately $25 more per month on their bills, based on 1000kWh of monthly usage.
In an unfortunate article in The Advocate that appeared on the same day as the application, ENO spun its request as the result of renewable energy costs, specifically a solar power project that it developed without prior Council approval. However, a closer look at ENO’s public filings reveal that the bulk of the increase is a result of investment in gas infrastructure, including the expensive and unpopular gas-fired power plant in New Orleans East. Meanwhile, the cost of renewable energy such as solar power continues to decrease.
While the Alliance for Affordable Energy supports a considered and comprehensive approach to our climate crisis, the work of this task force must be based on sound data and evidence if we are to meet the goal of net zero emissions by year 2050.
The sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Louisiana are clear, and industry is the primary polluter. I have heard a lot of discussion this morning about whether or not Louisiana can afford to refuse the permitting and construction of new industrial facilities. This task force should asking the opposite question: Can we afford to proceed as we have been?
The creation of this task force represents an opportunity to begin the difficult but necessary work of reversing decades of ecological destruction, but it must be guided by commitments to honest accounting, economic and racial equity, indigenous sovereignty, and a radical change in our relationship with the land and waters.
Check out the full comments made by our New Orleans Policy Director, Jesse George.
Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell urges state to respond to climate change. Louisiana is now recognizing that it is vulnerable to rising seas and damaging storms.
We are an energy state, not just an oil and gas state. We have a task force studying climate change and promoting offshore wind. Our coastal industries are helping to build a wind-power sector. Utilities are investing in renewables.
We can fight climate change, develop new industries and jobs, and watch our state prosper. It is not too late.
City Council races must tackle issue of regulating Entergy By Monique Harden, Jesse George & Brent Newman
Article by Monique Harden, Jesse George & Brent Newman
Originally Published on The Lens
July 22, 2021
Too often, candidates seeking the office of City Council do not talk about the extraordinary power of regulating Entergy, our city’s electric power utility. No other elected city government in the United States has the power of our City Council to regulate an investor-owned utility company.
According to data kept by the US Department of Energy, more than half of New Orleans residents pay a high energy cost burden that’s as much as 28 percent of monthly income.
In the upcoming year, councilmembers will choose whether to address a broad set of energy needs. The next slate of elected council members will have to tackle critical issues on Entergy’s costs and services as well as opportunities for more residents to benefit from renewable energy and electrification.
The New Orleans City Council has an extraordinary power -- the regulation of Entergy as an investor-owned utility company. Though the Council has a designated Utility, Cable, Telecommunications and Technology Committee (“UCTTC”) consisting of five members, major regulatory decisions are brought to the full Council for voting. Thus, all New Orleans City Council members are both legislators and regulators of a major electric and gas utility.
For years, the Energy Future New Orleans Coalition has advocated for strong regulatory oversight of Entergy in order to lower costs to ratepayers, increase the reliability of electric service in New Orleans, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are the cause of the changing climate threatening the future of our city.
We have prepared this simple informational sheet to highlight some of the regulatory issues currently pending before the Council:
Calls for New Rules Limiting The Council's Ability to Accept Campaign Contributions from the Utilities They Regulate
By Jesse George, New Orleans Policy Director, AAE
On June 25, 2021, the Greater New Orleans Interfaith Climate Coalition sent a letter addressed to the New Orleans Ethics Review Board and copied to the entire City Council, calling for an amendment to the Code of Ethics prohibiting City Council candidates and incumbents from accepting campaign contributions from Entergy, the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, and other regulated utilities, as well as from their executives and political action committees. The letter further calls for a ban on campaign contributions from persons or firms that contract to provide services to the Council, such as the Council’s utility advisors. Finally, the letter calls for disclosure by candidates seeking the office of City Council of any financial or other compensation received from regulated entities or contractors within the past five years, or any board service rendered to the same at any time.
By Jesse George, New Orleans Policy Director
These comments were given at the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources hearing concerning LDNR Class IV-Well Primacy Application to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Louisiana is a tragic case. Our state is addicted to fossil fuels, and like many addicts, instead of seeking to break our addiction, we seek ways to become functional addicts. The pipedream of carbon capture and sequestration is a prime example of this.
By Emily Sandstrom, AAE Intern
In June the Alliance gave public comment to the Louisiana Climate Initiatives Task Force (CITF) following a presentation on some hypothetical pathways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Louisiana.
If all permitted and permit pending facilities in Louisiana listed are built, it would add 125 Million Metric Tons Per Year CO2e.
*CO2e = Carbon Dioxide Equivalent, which includes emissions from other greenhouse gasses like methane, weighted according to their impact.
The CF Industries fertilizer plant in Donaldsonville, pictured here, is currently Louisiana’s largest emitter of CO2e. Photo credit.
Exxon Mobil claims that it supports the goals in the Paris climate agreement and is committed to addressing climate change. However, Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy was caught on video describing the company's efforts to undermine President Biden's climate and infrastructure proposals.
Article originally published on The Goldman Environmental Prize website
Shoutout to Sharon Levigne of Rise St. James, who has won the Goldman Prize for 2021! We're honored and excited to have worked alongside Sharon for years advocating for local Louisiana communities. The work is not done. With your help we look forward to being a part of the continued push to advance environmental justice in the South.
Read more to learn about the amazing success Sharon has had mobilizing grassroots opposition to the $1.25 billion plastics manufacturing plant that was set to be constructed alongside the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, Louisiana.
City Council will decide on consulting contracts for advice on Entergy. For decades, the Utility, Cable, Telecommunications and Technology Committee of the New Orleans City Council has relied on a handful of primarily out-of-state contractors to provide technical advice and counsel on regulatory matters involving Entergy New Orleans. Different iterations of the Council have come and gone, yet the same familiar personalities have occupied the seats reserved for these contractors at committee and Council meetings.
At an annual sum of nearly $7M, the contracts of the Council’s utility advisors are the most lucrative that it awards. The firms that currently hold these contracts -- including Washington, D.C.-based law firm Dentons and Denver-based technical advisory firm Legend Consulting Group -- have done so for almost four decades, while New Orleans continues to battle high bills and unreliable service. Ideally, the utility advisors would lend a critical eye on the utility’s filings before the Council, but in recent years the advisors have supported Entergy’s unpopular and costly decisions, such as the construction of the gas plant in New Orleans East, which will cost New Orleanians upwards of $650 Million over 30 years. Meanwhile, advisors are free to contribute to the political campaigns of hopeful Council candidates, while their expenses are paid for by New Orleans ratepayers.
The advisor’s current contracts expire at the end of 2021 and will be opened for a Request for Qualifications this year, as they are every five years.
From February 14th - 18th, 2021, Louisiana and Texas experienced extremely cold temperatures, relatively unusual for the region. Referred to as Winter Storm Uri, or most recently as The February Arctic Event, the freezing cold temperatures pushed our electric infrastructure to the brink of mass failure. Electric generating units failed due to the freeze, ice-covered tree branches took down power lines, gas supply could not meet demand, because of the nature of gas used in the region, the pipelines themselves could not withstand the temperatures, and the demand for energy to heat our homes was at an all time high. This created a Maximum Generation (or Max Gen) event within our electric market, MISO, and did lead to rolling blackouts for Louisianans.
Now that that extreme weather has passed, and Louisiana was spared the worst of it, our utility regulators want answers. Simple ‘supply and demand’ principles mean that that Max Gen event is going to come with a hefty price tag, but for who and when? The high fuel costs, recovered through the Fuel Adjustment Clause (FAC) will likely be spread out over 6-12 months, while costs associated with damaged power plants and transmission & distribution lines can be securitized with long-term bonds.
The New Orleans City Council, which has regulatory authority over Entergy New Orleans (“ENO”), has opened a docket (UD-21-01) in order to conduct a prudence investigation of ENO’s decision-making during the winter storm.
Yes, the puns are endless, but AMPs can be a lifeline to help folks get back on track. An Arrearage Management Program (AMP) is a program that helps you pay past due utility bills, packaged with energy efficiency and bill forgiveness, and we’re working to bring it to Louisiana!
Here’s the general idea. Say a customer has accrued $1,000 in electric bills over the past year. Given the record number of job losses and extreme weather, this isn’t unusual. The customer is getting back on their feet, just as our hot summer months are quickly approaching. Maybe they can keep up with current utility bills, but just can’t get over the hump to clear the past due amounts. Here’s where an AMP comes into play.
A well crafted AMP will allow for a customer with a past due balance to enroll in a payment plan, say they pay $25 extra a month to cover their past due balance. At the same time, they get an energy efficiency audit to see what programs may be available for them to lower their energy usage (and bills!) without sacrificing indoor comfort. Said customer can now stay current on their bills while continuing to pay towards the past due amount. Following a certain amount of time, a year for example, of staying current on monthly bills and the payment plan, the remaining past due balances are forgiven.
Confronting the myth of carbon-free fossil fuels: Why carbon capture is not a climate solution by Dana Drugmand & Carroll Muffett
Article by Dana Drugmand (CIEL) and Carroll Muffett (CIEL)
Originally published by Environmental Working Group (EWG)
April 22, 2021
Carbon capture and storage technologies are not only unnecessary to the rapid transformation required to keep warming under 1.5 degrees centigrade, they also delay that transformation, providing the fossil fuel industry with a license to continue polluting.
Fifth in a series.
New Orleans City Council Utility Chair Moreno urges action on regional grid as key to clean energy path
Shortly after the New Orleans City Council passed standards requiring 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050 and 90 percent within two decades, Council President Helena Moreno followed up with an immediate action to help pave the way for the city to succeed on its policy mandate.
In a May 24, 2021 letter to Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) CEO John Bear, Moreno underscored the importance of long-range transmission planning at MISO needed for “upgrading and expanding the wholesale transmission system to increase the access to low-cost, renewable energy resources.”
Today the full New Orleans City Council unanimously voted to adopt R-21-182, establishing a Renewable and Clean Portfolio Standard (RCPS) for the city of New Orleans.
After over two years of work on a policy to get polluting and fossil fuels out of New Orleans’ energy mix, thanks to petitions, symposia, community meetings, online town halls, and your input, the New Orleans Council has voted to approve the first Renewable and Clean Portfolio Standard in the Gulf South. Today New Orleans joined the now 32 states and three US territories that have established renewable energy mandates.