More details have emerged in the scandal around the use of paid actors posing as citizen advocates to show support for a gas plant that Entergy New Orleans wants to build.
The utility has concluded its internal investigation, with the unsurprising result of finding itself totally innocent of any knowledge of the hiring of the actors, or that they money it paid to a contractor was used to this effect.
However, Entergy’s choice of contractor, and that contractor’s history of actions, including hiring a subcontractor that forged letters from minority groups to defeat a bill to cap carbon emission in 2009, should be scandal enough.
These and other sordid incidents are documented in a post by Energy and Policy Institute, which notes that even though Entergy stated that based in part on the company’s “national reputation”, the utility fully expected that they would identify legitimate supporters of the plant and encourage them to attend the public meeting.
Entergy also denied any prior knowledge of Hawthorn’s activities, however, Energy and Policy Institute’s Matt Kaspar notes that “a simple Google search would have shown Entergy that Hawthorn’s ‘national reputation’ is a long and sordid one, rife with fraudulent antics.”
But perhaps the biggest scandal of all here is that whether Entergy knew about the actions of Hawthorn or not, Entergy’s revenues come from its utility customers, who may have inadvertently funded this sabotage of their city’s Democratic process.
This corruption of New Orleans’ regulatory oversight of Entergy is not limited to Hawthorn, either. According to Energy and Policy Institute “dozens” of directors of local non-profits testified in favor of the gas plant, despite the fact that some of these non-profits are the recipients of large donations by Entergy.
“They are a part of the charitable giving operation that Entergy, like virtually all regulated utilities, uses to buy support for its proposals from civic groups and charitable operations,” notes Energy and Policy Institute’s Daniel Tait.
The EEI connection
The potential for ratepayer funding of actions that are in the interest of utility shareholders and not customers is not limited to this incident. In our initial analysis, pv magazine noted that utilities frequently pay for their membership dues to Edison Electric Institute, which lobbies for the interests of utility shareholders, in their operating expenses.
It may say something about EEI’s approach to lobbying that Hawthorn Group is their second-biggest contractor, after a legal team. Nor is this unique to EEI; a political action campaign designed to defeat a more stringent renewable energy mandate in Michigan, funded by utilities DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, also hired Hawthorn Group.
The New Orleans City Council, itself no stranger to scandals, approved the gas plant 6-1. Given the severity of this incident, the Council should immediately move to reconsider its approval.