A renewable energy mandate in… New Orleans?

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It’s an interesting time for energy politics in New Orleans. In the wake of the scandal of Entergy New Orleans (ENO) paying actors to fake support for a gas plant, the New Orleans City Council has decided that it wants to look at whether or not to impose a renewable energy mandate on the utility.

A resolution passed by the council last week begins a rulemaking to investigate a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). While such a policy is typically implemented at the state level, the unusual situation of the New Orleans City Council as an energy regulator gives it the power to do this for ENO alone.

This is not the first time that such a policy has been considered in Louisiana, and this writer got his start in renewable energy working on a campaign to get Louisiana regulators to implement an RPS in 2009. That effort failed through the lack of a third willing regulator at the Louisiana Public Service Commission, and there have been no RPS policies implemented anywhere in the Deep South before nor since.

 

Details TBD

As for the policy under discussion in New Orleans, It is not clear at all what this policy will look like. The resolution presents questions but few guiding principles; the level of renewable energy, dates by which this should be achieved and eligible technologies are all openly stated as questions.

What is notable is that nuclear was not mentioned in the resolution. Louisiana has two nuclear power plants, the Waterford 3 and River Bend, and the latter is just up the river from New Orleans; furthermore Entergy, as the parent company of ENO, is the second-largest operator of nuclear power plants in the United States.

It is perhaps not accidental that Entergy has been one of the slowest utilities in the United States, and even in the Deep South, to adopt renewable energy. And while the overall portion of renewables in the state’s electricity mix is negligible, New Orleans and the entire state does have a relatively large volume of residential solar installed, thanks to a generous state tax credit which has since expired.

 

Change of policy, or image?

But while the New Orleans City Council pats itself on the back for its regulatory accomplishments in the resolution, it is not clear if the Council will have any more will to push Entergy to change than it has in the past.

Specifically, there is an open question as to whether or not this RPS rulemaking will be an attempt to implement a serious policy or an exercise in making the Council look more like it is holding Entergy to task. Only one month ago the Council failed to stop ENO from building the gas plant that it paid actors to fake support for, letting the utility off with a mere $5 million fine.

Parties wishing to intervene in the docket must file to do so by May 1, and comments must be submitted by June 3. An advisor’s report summarizing these comments is scheduled to be produced in September.