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Ida Aftermath: 2 Million Without Power on the ‘Island’ of New Orleans

Published: September 1, 2021
High winds blow palm trees as Entergy Corp. bucket trucks are staged on Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 29, 2021 during Hurricane Ida. (Image: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP ia Getty Images)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, New Orleans metro residents were left on what local electric supplier Entergy calls an ‘island’ without power following “catastrophic transmission failure” at all eight grid access points. In assessing the impact of the electrical outage the governor of Louisiana John Bel Edwards estimated conservatively that two million people could be without electricity.

Speaking Monday morning, CEO of Entergy New Orleans, Deanna Rodriguez, said there was no ETA for power restoration because comprehensive damage assessment had not occurred. In a separate Monday press event, Governor Edwards provided more granular details. He said the power companies are assessing the situation and “The bad news is there are eight main transmission lines going into the New Orleans area, all of which failed. The good news is there are eight lines and they’re not all going to be damaged the same, and so we believe that there should be an opportunity to power up New Orleans relatively soon through one of those lines…and while we’re talking about New Orleans, I want you to know, this is the issue for all of southeast Louisiana.” 

Edwards explained that the impact of the electrical outage may be more than the reports are detailing because “…it really isn’t a million people without power, it’s a million accounts. So, those are homes or businesses.” He estimated it could be very safely said that there were two million without power. The governor said well over 20,000 linemen, the largest deployment in the history of the state, were coming to restore power.

One of the eight transmission points that the governor mentioned was found to be beyond repair, as the 400-foot tower had been twisted by Ida’s winds and toppled, leaving electric lines from a 3800-foot span dunked into the Mississippi River. President Helena Moreno of New Orleans City Council said, “What I find unfortunate is that so often it takes something like this for changes to be made.” Moreno’s City Council is in charge of regulating Entergy, and from her vantage point Moreno said that electricity to services and critical infrastructure could potentially be restored, although waiting for a four-day assessment period was “sobering.”

The regional power-sharing grid, Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) supplies energy to the metro area. According to Entergy Louisiana CEO Phillip May, it simply remains for one of the seven remaining transmission corridors to be restored in order to get outside power flowing back in. However, that may not be so easy. 

Backup plan(t)

Entergy had an alternate plan, of having New Orleans’ metro electricity generate from “within the island” from a local power station or stations. The extent to which this plan could be set in motion was not readily apparent and stakeholders such as Moreno, while still hopeful that the plan may be functional in the next few days, are concerned. 

According to KHOU11, New Orleans’ City Council approved a customer rate increase to fund a new power plant “based on Entergy’s promises that it would let them make power “on an island” if the transmission points went down.” Now that this is precisely what is happening, the point is contentious due to an earlier controversy that revealed Entergy hired paid actors to attend the regulatory meetings of the City Council to speak in favor of the new plant. The new plant is in Michoud, in New Orleans East and there is another plant within the metro area at Nine Mile Point. 

According to Moreno, between the two plants and with some powerful generators added to the mix, enough electricity could be generated to run critical infrastructure and services. Then there is the matter of fixing the lines so that it can reach its destination. In the meantime, local Entergy CEO Rodriguez told New Orleans metro evacuees, “we don’t want you to come back for a whole host of reasons, but one because it’s hot and you won’t have power.”