As one of two Fortune 500 companies in the state of Louisiana and the only one in New Orleans, the political power that Entergy holds over the economically struggling city that it supplies electricity to and is headquartered in is hard to over-estimate.
That being said, Entergy does not always get its way, and particularly not today. This morning Judge Piper Griffin of the New Orleans Civil Court ruled that the New Orleans City Council had violated the Open Meetings Law by shutting opponents of a gas plant out of a public meeting, while actors paid by Entergy New Orleans occupied the seats in council chambers.
This means that the New Orleans City Council must reconsider its approval of the gas plant, which it voted 6-1 to approve and has declined to reconsider, even after it was revealed that Entergy New Orleans knowingly hired the actors to fake support for it, and boo solar.
Community organizations including Alliance for Affordable Energy, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and VAYLA, which represents the city’s large Vietnamese community, have long argued that there are better options for the city than a gas plant.
In February, Strategen Consulting prepared an analysis of the costs of battery storage for the site, and found that while batteries would likely represent higher capital costs, that the estimated lifetime levelized cost of electricity from a battery system was much lower than those of the gas peaker plants that Entergy is planning.
The analysis also notes that batteries can additionally provide grid services that a gas plant cannot. This includes stabilizing frequency on the grid during natural disasters which take other power plants offline, which Strategen notes was demonstrated by battery systems in the Dominican Republic during Hurricane Irma.
Strategen’s recommendation was clear: given other viable options, an all-source solicitation could provide a better, cheaper alternative:
Given the advancements in the state of battery storage leading up to and since ENO’s application, it appears warranted to revisit the viability of this option in lieu of the proposed alternative. The Council should require Entergy to conduct an all-source RFP solicitation that clearly defines system needs and would be open to a variety of resources including (but not limited to), energy storage, solar + storage, and demand response. This would allow for broad market participation to determine the most cost-effective mix of resources able to fulfill Entergy’s peak capacity and reliability needs.
The path forward
But while ample evidence has been provided that shows that there are other alternatives, it is not clear that the New Orleans City Council will consider these on equal footing to the gas plant that Entergy wants.
A central concern identified by clean energy advocates is the role of the advisors to the New Orleans City Council, whose members are typically not elected on the strength of their understanding of utility regulation, the power system, or other relevant matters.
And it is not clear at this time whether the new process will involve a recommendation by the Council’s utilities committee, or proceed directly to a vote of the full Council.
Regardless, advocates remain hopeful. “One way or another, there will be another opportunity for public comment and input and another Council vote,” Alliance for Affordable Energy Executive Director Logan Atkinson Burke told pv magazine.
“What we have to do is make sure that this council takes the opportunity to really hear from the community, and to look at the alternatives that have been put forward since Entergy and since the advisors made the recommendation to approve this plant.”