LOUISIANA (AP) – 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 weeks-long restoration process.
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 $1 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.