Entergy continued to slowly restore power to the metro area on Thursday, following massive blackouts caused by Hurricane Ida that left about 1 million people, including the entire city of New Orleans, in the dark for days.
Following a massive transmission failure that took out all eight major lines coming into the city, power was restored to some customers in eastern New Orleans, as well as parts of the French Quarter, Mid-City and St. Bernard Parish as of Thursday. At a Thursday press conference at City Hall, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Infrastructure Ramsey Green said the power utility expected to restore the balance of the French Quarter and the Central Business District’s electricity by Thursday. In addition, several hospitals are now back on the grid, city Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno said. Those still on generator power have not expressed any concerns that it will run out soon, she added.
According to Green, the Sewerage and Water Board’s East Bank Wastewater Treatment Plant was reconnected to Entergy power on Wednesday and is expected to be fully operational by the end of Thursday. But a Sewerage and Water Board spokesperson later told The Lens that power has been available at the site since Wednesday, but it will not be fully reconnected until the plant has been assessed and is deemed ready to operate.
The wastewater treatment facility is still inoperable, Green said, because of flooding. The plant was operating on generator power until Wednesday, when the generators went offline. (It was not immediately clear when the flooding occurred or how the flooded plant was operating until Wednesday.) With nowhere else to send sewage, the water utility has been forced to dump it into Bayou Bienvenue and the Mississippi River, the Times-Picayune reported on Wednesday.
Sewage lift and pump stations, that deliver wastewater to the plant, are operating on generator power, Green said.
As of Thursday, Entergy has been able to restore service to two transmission lines coming into New Orleans: the line coming in from Slidell to the city’s east and an additional line coming from the west. As a result, along with critical infrastructure, officials say that power should be restored to customers near the eastern and western edges of the city first, and then move inward as it brings more substations online. The company has also activated the New Orleans Power Station, a new power plant in eastern New Orleans, to relay incoming power coming in from a transmission line from Slidell.
But the majority of customers in the city of New Orleans are still in the dark. And region-wide, more than 743,000 customers were still without power as of early Thursday afternoon.
The New Orleans Power Station — the controversial gas plant that opened last year in eastern New Orleans following a scandal over the use of paid actors appearing at City Council meetings to express support for the plant — did not start on its own prior to the restoration of a transmission line coming in from Slidell early Wednesday morning.
One of the primary selling points for the plant, which was approved by the City Council over fierce objections from neighbors in the area, was that it had “black start capability,” meaning it should be able to start on its own without external electricity. As of Wednesday, NOPS is now relaying power from the repaired transmission line to provide electricity to parts of the metro area.
Councilwoman Helena Moreno on Wednesday published a Facebook post pointing to arguments Entergy made prior to approval of the plant, touting its black start capability, and asking why it apparently failed to materialize.
“Moving past this storm and restoration … there will be some questions that must be answered. Including why the New Orleans Power Station (NOPS) was not able to start on its own?” she wrote. “It’s now on because it’s in the path of the Slidell transmission lines. Entergy execs told the Council all week that NOPS just could not start unless it was hooked up to some other load. That’s contrary to all the testimony the previous Council received when it approved the plant in 2018.”
“As I mentioned, super happy we’ve got some power back,” she wrote. “But soon we’ll need to deep dive into this because it’s Orleans Parish ratepayers who paid to build NOPS, expected the benefit promised and deserve answers.”
Entergy officials have not responded to repeated requests for comment and was not represented at the city’s press conference. At the Thursday press conference, asked why NOPS did not begin operating prior to the restoration of the transmission line, Green provided some explanation.
“As has been conveyed to us, NOPS continued to run. That power plant can run,” Green said. “But they had to do a 24-hour period to make sure it was safe prior to the storm.”
In addition, distribution lines, the power lines that actually deliver electricity to homes and businesses, have been damaged.
“If you turned the plant on, per se, the power has to go somewhere,” Green said.
The plant alone can only produce about 128 megawatts of power, about ten percent of what the city needs. The transmission line coming from Slidell is able to produce about 980 megawatts, about 75 percent of the city’s normal needs, The Times-Picayune reported on Thursday.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story reported that Deputy CAO Ramsey Green said the East Bank Wastewater Treatment Plant was reconnected to the Entergy grid on Wednesday following generator failure. A Sewerage and Water Board spokesperson later told The Lens that while power has been available to be delivered to the plant since Wednesday, it was not fully reconnected by Thursday.