Entergy’s push to restore power to Louisiana is slowed by downed lines

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Two days after Hurricane Ida hit southern Louisiana, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were left without power and many could remain that way for weeks as crews work to restore them. broken power lines owned by Entergy, the state’s largest utility.

It was the second year in a row that the company’s lines suffered significant damage from hurricanes and storms, which scientists say are becoming increasingly intense and damaging due to climate change. As anger and frustration builds up in New Orleans and southern Louisiana, where the heat and humidity made it feel over 100 degrees on Tuesday, some energy experts questioned whether Entergy had done enough. to protect its lines and equipment from extreme weather conditions.

In August 2020, Hurricane Laura, which like Ida was a Category 4 storm, cut a destructive path through Louisiana, knocking down many Entergy lines and equipment.

“Their vintage gear didn’t stand up to Laura, and I suspect the same report for Ida,” said Robert McCullough, an energy consultant who runs McCullough Research in Portland, Ore.

The company’s power plants have the capacity to generate electricity, but Entergy cannot deliver this energy to homes and businesses because the storm destroyed or damaged much of its network of towers, poles and of son.

Entergy said it closed a natural gas plant in New Orleans that began operating last year, highlighting damage to power lines, including those that carry electricity to homes and businesses. The plant, which was supposed to provide electricity to the city during times of high demand and in emergencies, was not badly damaged by the storm, the company said.

Several other factories near the city are also ready to generate electricity when workers make enough repairs to the power lines. They include Ninemile 6 in Westwego, Louisiana, and the J. Wayne Leonard power plant in Montz, Louisiana.

“The teams are evaluating the transmission system and working on a plan to restore power,” Entergy spokesperson Jerry Nappi said in an email on Tuesday. “They expect to have the first lights in the city at the end of the day on Wednesday.”

The company said Monday that Hurricane Ida had decommissioned 216 substations and more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines. A conductor on a transmission line fell from an Entergy Tower in the Mississippi River near Avondale, Louisiana. The public service and others have posted many photos in line of transmission and distribution towers lying on the ground.

The storm also damaged some of the utility factories in the New Orleans area, Entergy said Tuesday. As the storm’s winds increased, Entergy said, it disconnected the Waterford 3 nuclear power plant in St. Charles Parish from the grid, noting that the facility remained in a safe and stable condition. The plant has been listed on the website of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as not producing electricity.

Governor John Bel Edwards, who congratulated Entergy on building the J. Wayne Leonard plant, expressed frustration on Tuesday at the rate at which the company was restoring power.

“I’m not happy with 30 days, the people at Entergy are not happy with 30 days, no one who needs electricity is happy with that,” said Edwards, a Democrat. “But I’m aware that we just had the strongest hurricane – at least tied for the strongest – the state has ever seen.”

Entergy supplies electricity to three million customers in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. It also operates several nuclear power plants, mostly in the South.

The financial costs of the storms are piling up for Entergy. In addition to the repairs it makes because of Ida, the company’s equipment was damaged in three hurricanes in 2020 and a winter storm this year. Entergy told Louisiana regulators that restoration costs in the state related to previous storms would total $ 2.1 billion.

Storms seem to do more damage. Regulators let the Entergy entities recover $ 732 million for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which struck in 2005, according to documents that Phillip May, chief executive of Entergy Louisiana, submitted to the Louisiana Civil Service Commission in April. After adjusting for inflation, the two 2005 hurricanes cost the company $ 1 billion in 2021 dollars.

The company is seeking permission to charge customers higher electricity rates to cover repair costs. Regulators usually end up approving such requests, but taxpayers can object to frequent rate increases.

In its request for a rate increase, Entergy detailed the extent of the wreckage of last year’s most damaging storm – Hurricane Laura. The company said 1,822 transmission structures, 12,453 distribution poles and approximately 770 miles of distribution cables were destroyed or damaged.

The total 2020 hurricane bill could be even higher than what the company has estimated so far. In February, Entergy said in a securities filing that last year’s hurricanes damaged several transmission lines, including an unspecified one in southeast Louisiana. The company said the line had not been repaired because it could be expensive. “The plan to restore this transmission line and the estimated associated costs are still being evaluated,” Entergy said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Entergy did not immediately respond to questions regarding this transmission line and whether it had been repaired or removed.

The company, which employs more than 13,000 people, had revenues of $ 10.1 billion in 2020 and profits soared 12% to $ 1.4 billion. While Entergy is most likely able to pass the costs of the storm on to its customers, the company has struggled to convince investors. Over the past two years, its stock has fallen by about 2%, compared to an increase of 10% for utility stocks in the S&P 500 and 55% for the S&P 500 as a whole.

Sophie Kasakové contributed reports.

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