Hurricane Ida turns spotlight on Louisiana power grid issues

Sep 4, 2021, 5:55 AM | Updated: Sep 6, 2021, 10:02 pm
Downed power lines slump over a road in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in R...

Downed power lines slump over a road in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Reserve, La. Power out, high voltage lines on the ground, maybe weeks until electricity is restored in some places _ it's a distressingly familiar situation for Entergy Corp., Louisiana's largest electrical utility. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Power out, high voltage lines on the ground, weeks until electricity is restored in some places: The dismal state of power in Hurricane Ida’s wake is a distressingly familiar scenario for Entergy Corp., Louisiana’s largest electrical utility.

The power company has grappled with other widespread outages after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike — not to mention Laura, Delta and Zeta — over the past decade and a half. Other Louisiana and Gulf Coast utilities have faced similar disasters, sometimes needing to rebuild entire networks. If anything, power restoration has gotten faster in recent decades.

Still, critics question the enormity of the outage from Hurricane Ida and why it is still so widespread nearly a week after the storm slammed into the state with 150 mph (241 kph) winds.

The concerns are most acute in the New Orleans area. All eight of the transmission lines that link a region of more than 900,000 people to power from the outside world failed during Ida — even though storm damage in the area was less severe than to the south and west. As of Friday, Entergy had restored three of the lines.

“For all eight to fail, I’m just wondering whether this could have been prevented and that’s what we’re going to be looking into,” New Orleans City Council Member Helena Moreno, who oversees energy regulation in the city, told WWL-TV.

While Entergy was heavily criticized for widespread failures and slow restoration after Hurricane Gustav in 2008, many are holding back from pointing fingers post-Ida. Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday that “nobody” is satisfied with a weekslong restoration process. “But I am mindful that we just had the strongest hurricane, at least tied for the strongest, that the state has ever experienced.”

However, Entergy critic Logan Burke of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a New Orleans group that seeks lower costs and greener energy, says the company’s grid hasn’t met expectations.

“We’ve been led to believe the transmission system was built for this level of wind, but it couldn’t have possibly been,” Burke said.

The isolation of metro New Orleans has always made power supply tricky, because there aren’t enough power plants inside the area to meet needs. But regulators are likely to ask why Entergy didn’t use a new $210 million plant in eastern New Orleans to restart electricity.

When it was lobbying the city to build the facility — a process during which the company hired actors to pose as plant supporters, prompting a $5 million fine — Entergy told officials the plant would have what’s called “black start” capability, the ability to power up a blacked-out grid.

“It didn’t work as advertised,” said Andrew Tuozzolo, Moreno’s chief of staff.

The plant does have black start capability, but Entergy determined that a small disturbance could knock the plant offline and that it would be better to use it along with electricity from elsewhere for greater stability in balancing the power load, said Entergy Louisiana CEO Philip May.

“If we have the ability to pursue a path … that allows us to do this in a more controlled and more robust way, that’s going to be the path we pursue,” he said.

Entergy’s transmission troubles were underscored when a high voltage tower crumpled beside the Mississippi River in the New Orleans suburb of Avondale during Ida. The utility says it builds new transmission towers to withstand winds up to 150 mph, but the company has said its oldest towers were only designed to withstand 100 mph (160 kph) winds. It’s unclear how many older towers remain.

Asked that question, Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi replied in an email that the company seeks to upgrade “priority structures” under yearly plans and bring up damaged towers to “more resilient standards” when repairing or replacing them.

Flying debris hitting lines is often a bigger problem than damage to towers, and the overall transmission system may have been knocked offline not by destroyed towers but as circuits tripped. May has said the Avondale tower recently passed an inspection and hadn’t been reinforced because it was already “robustly engineered.”

Regulators could force Entergy to further toughen its grid, lessening future risks from the more frequent and severe storms wrought by climate change. Florida, for example, now requires every privately owned utility to submit an annual plan for making the electrical system more resistant to outages.

But upgrades cost money — and money usually comes from customers.

“When you’re looking at something like storm hardening, the important thing to remember is that ultimately it is going to be the people that are paying all of these costs,” said Ted Kury, director of energy studies at the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center.

Shouldering upgrade costs could burden customers who are still paying for old repairs. Louisiana Public Service Commission documents show Entergy customers outside the city of New Orleans have been charged nearly $2 billion to rebuild lines and refill storm damage reserve funds since 2005.

Customers will be paying for 2008 hurricanes Gustav and Ike through next summer; and Isaac, which hit in 2012, through 2026. Entergy wants another $2 billion to cover costs from Laura, Delta and Zeta last year. Repairing Ida’s damage will cost still more.

With customers paying for old damage, it’s hard to focus on investing for the future, Burke said.

“It sucks up all the time and energy and capacity as costs start hitting bills,” he said.

Some upgrade ideas have been rejected as too expensive or technically impractical. While Louisiana encourages burying local distribution lines in new developments, studies have suggested that burying high voltage transmission lines could cost billions. There are also questions about feasibility, Kury said, because underground transmission lines can overheat and be damaged by water.

David Dismukes executive director of the Center for Energy Studies at Louisiana State University, said he would “caution people that redundancy comes with a big cost, and usually when you start working and penciling the numbers out, the economics usually don’t work out on this kind of thing.”


An earlier version of this story said Entergy was fined $1 million for hiring actors. It should have said Entergy was fined $5 million.


Associated Press writer Melinda Deslatte contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Man charged with murder in shooting of North Carolina deputy

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Authorities in North Carolina charged a man with murder Thursday in the fatal shooting of a sheriff’s deputy last week. Arturo Marin-Sotelo is charged in the Aug. 11 killing of Wake County Deputy Ned Byrd, Sheriff Gerald Baker said during a news briefing. Lt. Walter Adams said the investigation is ongoing […]
11 hours ago
FILE - A street sign leads to what was once the home of Paul Adams and his family on the outskirts ...
Associated Press

Judge limits privilege defense in AZ Mormon sex abuse case

An Arizona judge overseeing a high-profile lawsuit accusing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of conspiring to cover-up child sex abuse has ruled that the church may not refuse to answer questions or turn over documents under the state’s “clergy-penitent privilege.” Clergy in Arizona, as in many other states, are required to report […]
11 hours ago
This image shows the September 2022 issue of Creem. The magazine, which billed itself as “America...
Associated Press

Rock mag Creem attempts comeback after more than 30 years

NEW YORK (AP) — Creem, which billed itself as “America’s only rock ‘n’ roll magazine” during two decades of existence that ended in 1989, is being revived next month. The return is a remarkable story of persistence by J.J. Kramer, who was bequeathed the magazine at age 4 upon the death of his father, founder […]
11 hours ago
FILE - Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., addresses a South Carolina GOP dinner July 29, 2022, in Columbi...
Associated Press

Graham appeals order to testify in Georgia election probe

ATLANTA (AP) — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has formally appealed a judge’s order requiring him to testify before a special grand jury investigating whether former President Donald Trump and others illegally sought to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia. The South Carolina Republican’s appeal had been expected following a judge’s Monday ruling that he […]
11 hours ago
FILE - Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson warms up before a preseason NFL football game ag...
Associated Press

Browns QB Deshaun Watson settles for 11-game suspension

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson has reached a settlement with the NFL and will serve an 11-game unpaid suspension and pay a $5 million fine rather than risk missing his first season as quarterback of the Cleveland Browns following accusations of sexual misconduct. Watson was accused of sexual assault and harassment by two dozen […]
11 hours ago
Associated Press

WVa deputy charged with violating suspect’s civil rights

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia sheriff’s deputy was charged with a federal civil rights violation after he allegedly punched and pepper sprayed a suspect, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday. Monongalia County Deputy Lance Kuretza, who was arrested Thursday, also is accused of writing a false report on the January 2018 incident, the […]
11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Hurricane Ida turns spotlight on Louisiana power grid issues