City Council talks solar energy and short-term rentals at Wednesday committee meetings

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Michael Isaac Stein / The Lens

City Councilwoman Helena Moreno, pictured here at an April utility committee meeting, recently announced a plan to bolster the city’s use of solar power.

The New Orleans City Council utility committee on Wednesday advanced a plan for Entergy New Orleans to add 90 megawatts of solar energy to its portfolio

“This has been a really drawn-out process that started all the way back in 2016,” Councilwoman and utility chair Helena Moreno said. “The council has had to come in multiple times to push Entergy to make all of this work and get to where we are today.”

The plan includes a 20 megawatt solar plant in eastern New Orleans, a 50 megawatt solar generation facility in Washington Parish and a power purchase agreement that would bring in 20 megawatts of solar power from St. James Parish. According to Moreno, the additional power will cost $1.50 a month for the average residential Entergy New Orleans customer. 

“It also comes with economic benefits in terms of job creation, new spending and overall boost to our economy,” she said.

Moreno noted that the new generation will make up 10 percent of Entergy New Orleans’ portfolio. And, she said, the council will continue to encourage the adoption of clean energy when it approves a renewable portfolio standard — a tool used by utility regulators to mandate power companies to use more renewable power sources. 

According to the council, 29 states, Washington D.C and three U.S. territories have implemented renewable portfolio standards. 

The council is still a far way off from passing a renewable portfolio standard for Entergy New Orleans. The council’s utility advisors will submit a draft by September 2. In the meantime, a coalition of consumer and environmental advocates have submitted their own draft, which seeks the adoption of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. 

Presentation on short-term rental enforcement

Solar energy wasn’t the only “drawn-out process” that council members dealt with on Wednesday. They also discussed short-term rental reform. 

At a Governmental Affairs Committee meeting, officials from the Department of Safety and Permits delivered a presentation on a proposed ordinance that would strengthen permitting requirements and enforcement for short-term rentals. 

“I know this has been a long process, but we’re nearing the end,” Councilwoman Kristen Palmer said. 

Right now, only the person offering a home for rent —  a property owner, long-term tenant, or in some cases, the operator —  needs to have a permit. Under the proposed ordinance, platforms like Airbnb and short-term rental management firms would need to get permits as well.

The New Orleans City Council has been working for more than a year to redesign the city’s regulations to make them more restrictive and create a balance between the short-term rental industry and the city’s need for more affordable, long-term residential housing.

The council is pursuing the new permitting and enforcement measures so that once the new restrictions are in place, they will be effective. As councilmembers have repeatedly noted, the city’s current enforcement system has significant flaws. 

Last month, The Lens reported on one resident’s fight to get the city to take action on a short term rental on her block that appeared to be improperly permitted. She worked with the Department of Safety and Permits, gathered evidence for the investigator, looked up the house’s blueprints and tax records, and spoke with her city council member’s staff. 

When none of that worked, she rented the Airbnb herself. Last month, the Department of Safety and Permits revoked its short-term rental permit. 

In a memo written in February, the Department of Safety and Permits said that one reason for non-compliance with the city’s rules was a lack of cooperation between the city and platforms like Airbnb and Homeaway. 

“The platforms have gone to great lengths to avoid meeting their end of the bargain,” it said. “Their actions may be legitimately characterized as deliberate data obfuscation, refusal to provide required data, and a total failure of cooperation with any enforcement mechanisms pursued by the City against platform users who violate the law.”

City officials are hoping that requiring platform permits, and retaining the power to revoke those permits, will go a long way to creating more effective, proactive enforcement.

Palmer said that the ordinance will be up for a final vote at either the July 25 or August 8 full City Council meeting. 

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