Last night, Louisiana’s utilities asked customers to do something powerful: use less energy.
Entergy sent a clear message that one of best tools to solve grid concerns are the very ones the Alliance is fighting for year round: Conservation and Energy Efficiency. When the grid is in danger, because traditional generation has failed, utilities and the reliability coordinators who run the grid know what works: using resources in a smarter way.
This is really powerful wakeup call to the regulators in states that don’t currently have Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS). The map below shows the states with EERS in darker blue, with EE goals in light blue, and those with no EERS/goal in white. The very states being called upon by their balancing authorities to conserve are those in white on the map. Tennessee Valley Authority, serving TN, AL, MS, and parts of KY sent out a similar notice to their customers. MISO is asking customers in Louisiana, one of the only states they serve without an EERS, to conserve energy during this extreme cold weather, after Entergy reported un-expected generation outages.
The fact is, Louisiana, including New Orleans, has a real need to focus on our energy waste. Whether during dangerously cold nights or the heat of summer, the most powerful tool to keep bills low, homes comfortable and healthy, and even to keep the grid strong is efficiency and reduced consumption. We waste more energy than any other state (according to the EIA, we have the highest residential consumption in the country), and implementing robust efficiency policies will mean our homes, businesses, and grid are better prepared for extreme weather. The Utility’s own messaging underscores our own: caulk up your windows, insulate your home, turn down your thermostat.
Next: According to Entergy Louisiana, the reason for the concern last night was related to some generation being unexpectedly off-line. This is a cautionary note: more power plants are not always the answer, as they take time to get going, they can break down in the cold and heat, and put upward pressure on bills.
Additionally, when extreme weather decends, especially in the winter, natural gas becomes a volatile fuel to depend upon. Costs can fluctuate wildly, as demand for gas spikes. Last week, when the temperatures plunged around the country, generation was switched from natural gas to fuel oil in order manage fuel shortages and costs. Installing more new gas plant only puts that plant in line with everyone else looking to buy gas, including residents and businesses who use gas for operations or heating.
Locally, problems on the grid are related to other issues. New Orleans area outages happened last night because (at least in my neighborhood) the distribution system is failing again. Three transformers in my neighborhood exploded last night (not hyperbole, I heard and saw them from my house) in large part because the good people in my 'hood were cranking their heaters to deal with the cold and the transformers couldn’t handle it. We just don’t have a robust distribution system here, and adding generation in New Orleans East wouldn’t have solved the local distribution problems.
So, the answer is and will remain: lets make our homes healthier, safer, more comfortable, and of course more affordable by improving efficiency. Utilities and grid professionals know it is a powerful solution when the going gets tough. Lets give people the tools to do it year round.