The qualifying period has concluded for candidates seeking the office of New Orleans City Council. The responsibilities of council members cover a host of subject matter areas: criminal justice, housing, land use, sanitation, budgeting, transportation, and the environment, among others.
Too often, candidates seeking the office of City Council do not talk about the extraordinary power of regulating Entergy, our city’s electric power utility. Elections come and go without so much as a statement by candidates on what they would do to lower the cost of Entergy bills, or how they would support energy efficiency and home weatherization. According to data kept by the US Department of Energy, more than half of New Orleans residents pay a high energy cost burden that’s as much as 28 percent of monthly income.
In past council races, televised debates rarely question candidates on their plans for eliminating the frequent number of power outages that occur, rain or shine. Candidates developed platforms that did not connect, much less mention, New Orleans’ vulnerability to the climate crisis and our place in a region that is engulfed by industrial pollution. Voters seldom heard candidates share their vision for improving livelihoods and neighborhoods with equitable energy policies.
It is our hope that this will change in the 2021 City Council races. As members of local organizations who have joined together in the coalition Energy Future New Orleans (EFNO), we are working to raise awareness of the important power and responsibility of the City Council to regulate Entergy. How elected council members choose to exercise this power impacts both the everyday lives of residents and our future.
The authority to regulate Entergy is provided by the City of New Orleans Home Rule Charter. All seven councilmembers get to decide what Entergy charges to local customers. They vote on the type and quality of services Entergy can provide. No other elected city government in the United States has the power of our City Council to regulate an investor-owned utility company. With this power comes the great responsibility to address a broad set of energy needs.
The next slate of elected council members will have to tackle critical issues on Entergy’s costs and services as well as opportunities for more residents to benefit from renewable energy and electrification. In the upcoming year, councilmembers will choose whether to:
- Implement the recently approved Renewable and Clean Portfolio Standard and ensure that electricity supplied to New Orleans residents meets the requirements for phasing out dirty coal, oil, and gas.
- Hold a public process to determine the reasonableness of the costs Entergy charges for the New Orleans East gas plant that have ballooned from $210 million to more than $650 million over the planned use of the plant.
- Supervise an independent management audit of Entergy to investigate problems in customer service and operations, including unexpected bill spikes, frequent power outages, safety violations at the Grand Gulf nuclear plant, criminal data breaches of customer accounts, and the Mardi Gras emergency black-out.
- Ensure that Entergy supplies New Orleans with least-cost energy through ongoing integrated resource planning.
- Advance community solar projects for renters and other residents who face barriers to roof-top solar.
- Support climate and extreme weather resilience by planning for New Orleans to have greater access to transmission power on the multi-state electric grid.
- Improve public access with live and recorded video of all rate cases and evidentiary hearings, as well as provide the public at least one week to review a draft resolution on a utility matter before it is considered at a Council meeting.
- Pay for technical and legal support on utility matters by either staffing the Council Utility Regulatory Office and choosing expert consultants on a case-by-case basis or continuing with the expensive umbrella contracts for politically connected advisors.
For Council candidates and voters, the Energy Future New Orleans (EFNO) provides a deeper dive on the Council’s regulatory authority and current energy issues. On September 28, 2021, EFNO will hold a City Council candidates’ forum that includes Q&A with attendees. We encourage all candidates to speak up and speak often about their plans for improving the regulation of Entergy and setting equitable energy policies for the people of New Orleans.
Monique Harden is the Assistant Director of Law and Public Policy and Community Engagement Program Manager for the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.
Jesse George is the New Orleans Policy Director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy.
Brent Newman is the Senior Policy Director for Audubon Delta.
The Opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Opinion Editor Amy Stelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.