New Orleans decides to double state’s solar capacity

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Today is a day three years in the making, as the New Orleans City Council has officially approved a bid by Entergy New Orleans (ENO) to bring 90 MW of utility-scale solar to the city.

As for the three-year aspect, ENO first announced plants to issue a 20 MW request for proposals (RFP) for renewable energy in March 2016. That RFP eventually expanded to an impressive 100 MW, but was never acted upon, which begs a tree-in-the-forest-esque question of “If an RFP leads to zero procurement, is it really an RFP?”

However, unlike that folly of a procurement plan, this new bid appears to actually have some legs to it. Those 90 MW will come from three separate sources:

  • a 20 MW project at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility on Old Gentilly Road in New Orleans East, expected to be completed before the end of 2020 at a $42 million cost
  • a 50 MW purchase agreement for a project to be built and owned by a third-party developer in Washington Parish
  • a third party under a build-own-transfer agreement for a 20 MW plant in St. James Parish

To add a little touch of spice and fun to the plan, that 20 MW project at Michoud Assembly Facility will be quite close to ENO’s controversial 128 MW gas plant. You may remember said gas plant for attracting media attention after it was found that ENO used paid actors to fake public support for the plant.

Now 90 MW is a big deal anywhere, even in California, but it is especially so in New Orleans. The entire state of Louisiana has a total installed solar capacity of roughly 99 MW, so we can tentatively add it it the list of Southern states expected to double or further exponentially expand their installed solar capacity in the coming years. This list includes Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.

Going back down to the city, this solar will be a major shift in ENO’s generation portfolio. The company’s peak load is around 1 GW. At least 90 of the state’s 99 MW have come through an ENO residential solar program. that program has a stated capacity goal of 100 MW. If those 10 MW come to New Orleans, and it has been reported that up to 40 MW could, that would bring the city’s overall installed solar capacity between 100 and 130 MW. You may already see where this is going, but that would mean that solar could serve somewhere from 10-13% of the city’s peak load. Again, this is an absolutely impressive feat, especially considering it’s coming in the Deep South.

However with the New Orleans City Council’s lackluster history of acting on renewable energy and the lack of action from that earlier RFP, we should wait to see these projects break ground before we start to celebrate. However, when and if they do, there are few better places to celebrate than New Orleans.