Entergy Tower on Loyola Avenue in New Orleans

In a report issued this week, the New Orleans City Council’s utility advisors are recommending that the city require electric and gas utility Entergy New Orleans to attain net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century — a goal consistent with steps deemed necessary by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming above 1.5 degrees celsius. 

The report cited “the unique vulnerability of New Orleans to the devastating consequences of climate change and the urgent need for decarbonization to prevent dangerous levels of global warming.” 

“The Advisors agree that current climate science strongly indicates the need to get to net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century,” the report said. “For that reason, the advisors support at a minimum a target of not less than 100% clean energy by 2050.”

According to the report, that goal can be achieved while only increasing customer bills by roughly one percent. 

The report is being filed as part of a formal proceeding — called a docket — opened earlier this year by the council, which regulates Entergy New Orleans. The goal of the docket is to determine how best to lower carbon emissions and adopt more renewable power generation. One of the biggest questions when the council began the work was whether any new carbon-reduction standards should be mandatory or voluntary.

Entergy argued they should be voluntary to ensure that customer bills don’t increase too much. The advisors — a team of contracted attorneys and technical experts — disagreed. 

“Voluntary standards leave too much discretion to the utility on whether or not to comply and provide the Council with no method to enforce the goals it has set,” the report said. 

Parties to the docket — which include Entergy and a coalition of environmental and consumer advocates under the banner of Energy Future New Orleans Coalition, or EFNO — will have until Oct. 1 to respond to the advisor’s report. 

After that, the Council will draw on the advisor’s findings to write up a resolution establishing their preferred renewable portfolio standards. That isn’t expected to happen until after the Council passes a 2020 budget later this year. 

The advisors laid out three potential models to achieve the net-zero goal. To control prices, all three plans would have a cap on what Entergy would be allowed to spend every year to reach the goal — 1 percent of total retail sales. According to the report, that would be $6.1 million a year based on current sales levels.

One option, a less aggressive version of a plan by the EFNO coalition, would mandate that Entergy New Orleans use only renewable energy sources — like wind or solar — by 2040. The other two would get to zero emissions through a mixture of renewables and other technologies such as nuclear energy or carbon capture. 

The advisors say the quickest way to decarbonize is by taking advantage of all resources, renewable and other technologies.

“To the extent, however, that the Council would prefer to prioritize economic development, and particularly the development of the local renewables industry in New Orleans… then the appropriate goal would be a renewables only” standard, the report says.

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and Pacific Standard. He was recently awarded a fellowship from the Heinrich Boll Foundation, which he used to report on water scarcity, division, and colonialism in Cyprus.