How should New Orleans meet its energy needs over the next 20 years?

Residents have the chance to sound off on that topic at a public hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon. I’ll live-blog the hearing below.

The hearing is the second of two meetings at which the public can review and critique the city’s Integrated Resource Plan. A complex, 55-page document crafted by Entergy New Orleans, the plan lays out the utility company’s strategy for meeting long-term energy demands.

Gary Huntley, Entergy New Orleans’ vice president for regulatory and governmental affairs, said the plan embodies what the company considers the most cost-effective way to meet customer needs, given growth projections and other factors.

According to Huntley, the plan seeks to balance three elements:

  • new construction of traditional energy generators
  • energy-efficiency measures taken by customers
  • use of renewable energy resources

Critics of the plan contend that although the utility company studied renewable energy resources, the plan downplays their potential role.

“It’s maybe not surprising that the utility company would not be moving in the direction of renewable energy, but it would be appropriate for the community to take another look at renewable energy and come to a sense of where as a community we want to be going,” said Forest Bradley-Wright, senior program director with the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a nonprofit watchdog group that advocates for renewable energy sourcing.

Huntley countered that the company’s final document must factor in federal regulations and other mandates that require utilities to maintain certain amounts of power for their customer bases.

“There are a lot of people who want us to be extremely proactive in certain areas, as in renewables for example,” Huntley said. “If for whatever reason the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, we’ve got to keep power available.”

Bradley-Wright said Entergy’s plan relies overwhelmingly on building fossil fuel-powered  generators and fails to adequately address energy efficiency as a way to combat rising utility costs.

Currently, Entergy allots $4 million a year to “Energy Smart,” a program created by the New Orleans City Council and run by Entergy New Orleans that gives rebates to residents who invest in making their homes and businesses more energy-efficient, Bradley-Wright said.

The program has been a huge success for the city, according to Bradley-Wright. He said the Entergy plan should commit more than the $5 million to $6 million it proposes to spend annually on longer-term investments in energy efficiency.

According to supplemental documents Entergy filed with its plan, “every dollar invested in energy efficiency returns $1.92 in total benefits to ratepayers and $1.87 in total benefits to the utility.”

The City Council, which regulates Entergy New Orleans, will decide whether the utility’s plan should be modified before it is adopted. Bradley-Wright said public input at Friday’s meeting will be a factor in that decision.

“Entergy will need to play a huge role in creating the plan, and they’re in a unique position to conduct analysis,” Bradley-Wright said. “But as a regulated monopoly, the company has a certain way of looking at the world. The utility company is just not expected to think to move in that direction without the momentum coming from another source. I think the council has an important role in that and so does the public. It’s a remarkable opportunity. There’s never been a meeting quite like this.”

Councilwoman Susan Guidry described the Integrated Resource Plan as the “culmination of more than a year’s worth of analysis and discussions between Entergy New Orleans, the council’s utility advisers, the Alliance for Affordable Energy and other interested stakeholders.”

“We have a tremendous opportunity through this plan to make energy efficiency a top priority in New Orleans,” she said.*

The meeting is scheduled from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.

Live blog

Integrated Resource Plan

*Editor’s note: The comment from Councilwoman Guidry was added after initial publication of this article.

Heather Miller

Heather Miller is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Lens' Charter School Reporting Corps. She is a former staff writer for The Independent in Lafayette, and is now based in New Orleans.