By Beverly Wright, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ)
The City Council has the responsibility to decide whether Entergy's application for a gas plant in New Orleans East is in the public interest. What Entergy wants may not be in the public interest, but what New Orleans needs defines the public interest.
There is no independent utility authority declaring that a new gas plant is needed in New Orleans. Entergy simply wants one. It is clear that Entergy wants a gas plant that would cost at least $210 million to construct. Entergy also wants the City Council to shift all the financial risks to residents and businesses in New Orleans. If approved, Entergy would receive an 11 percent profit on the construction cost -- called a "return on equity" -- of at least $23 million.
The amount of electricity the gas plant would generate does not matter to Entergy. The company offers two gas plant options with widely different amounts of electric generation of 128 megawatts and 226 megawatts.
It does not matter to Entergy that its entire claim for a gas plant hinges on the unlikely scenario of two failures occurring on the transmission system at the same time during a 50-hour period when electric use is high. It also does not matter that this scenario can be avoided with transmission upgrades which cost far less than a new gas plant.
A new gas plant will not fix the problem of frequent power outages because they are caused by the poor condition of the poles, wires and transformers in our neighborhoods. Unlike other utility companies operating in Louisiana and across the country, Entergy faces no penalty for these excessive power outages.
What New Orleans needs may be less clear for council members, who look to a team of consultants for an answer.
In response to discovery requests by the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, the consultants revealed that they negotiated a deal with Entergy to develop at least 120 megawatts of electric generation in New Orleans with the Michoud site in New Orleans East as a potential location. This deal took place in 2015, two years before Entergy filed its current gas plant application to the
The consultants have not wavered from their deal with Entergy. They now recommend the council approve Entergy building a 128 megawatt gas plant on the Michoud site.
As an expert witness in the Entergy gas plant case, I pointed out the fact that the consultants have conflicting roles. The consultants are both parties to the prior agreement with Entergy for a new generating facility and advisors to the City Council on whether it should be approved. My testimony focused on the impact of this prior agreement to undermine the process for public participation. The consultants filed a motion to strike my testimony from the record. This matter is now on appeal to the council.
In recommending the gas plant, the consultants ignore some important needs in the city.
New Orleanians have made equity a priority for local policies and governmental decisions. However, the consultants failed to address the inequity of operating a gas plant in close proximity to predominantly African-American and Vietnamese-American neighborhoods in New Orleans East.
The consultants have not analyzed any of the environmental and health impacts. Even when released in amounts permitted by environmental law, air pollution from their recommended gas plant is scientifically known to cause heart and lung damage. In addition, this gas plant would release greenhouse gases that would set back the city of New Orleans' Climate Action Strategy.
The consultants failed to analyze the flood risk associated with a gas plant, which would re-start groundwater pumping without any legal limit.
At the time the consultants recommended approval of Entergy's gas plant, they were not aware of the current FEMA flood map that shows the location of the proposed Entergy gas plant is in a high-risk flood hazard area. They also did not know that FEMA policy discourages locating a power plant in this area.
The consultants' recommendation of a gas plant allows Entergy to not complete the analysis of safer and cheaper alternatives to a gas plant. These alternatives include efficient and renewable energy, reduced energy use programs and transmission upgrades.
The consultants poorly serve the City Council by placing what Entergy wants above what New Orleans needs. The council members have the authority to make a better decision for our neighborhoods, environment and future. Let's demand that they do so.
Beverly Wright is the executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, an intervenor in the New Orleans City Council's proceeding on the Entergy gas plant application.
Article originally from The Times Picayune
Collection of writings from Public Interest Intervenors DSCEJ, AAE, Sierra Club, 350 NOLA, and VAYLA.