Ten days after Hurricane Ida knocked out power to nearly a million Entergy customers, the company is coming close to restoring electricity to the overwhelming majority of households and businesses in New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and Baton Rouge, company executives said on Wednesday.
But while those more populous areas are starting to regain some sense of normalcy, the restoration efforts in other areas of the state are just beginning. The city of Thibodaux, for example, only got its first lights on yesterday, according to Entergy Louisiana CEO Phillip May.
May said the company’s efforts will now turn to restoring power in some of the hardest-hit areas of the state — places like Lafourche Parish, Terrebonne Parish, much of Plaquemines Parish outside of Belle Chasse and St. Charles Parish — where power isn’t expected to be substantially restored until the end of September.
May said that as more customers come on line, the company was consolidating resources in those parts of the state that remain largely without electricity.
“We’re continuing to cascade resources down into those areas,” he said. “They should see more and more trucks entering those communities.”
May said that of the 902,000 Entergy customers who lost power during the storm, an estimated 600,000 had been restored, or roughly 67 percent. He said that the east and west banks of Jefferson Parish should be substantially restored by the end of Wednesday — excluding lower Jefferson Parish — as should St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans. He announced the restoration of the Greater Baton Rouge area earlier this week.
Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez said on Wednesday that 170,000 customers out of the 205,000 New Orleans customers who lost power — roughly 83 percent — had been restored. And she said the company was still on track to restore 90 percent by the end of the day on Wednesday.
“I guess everyone can see around us that the Greater New Orleans area is coming back to life,” she said. “Getting the Greater New Orleans area largely restored in 10 days following a near-category 5 hurricane has been a tremendous feat. We are extremely proud of the immense efforts and accomplishments of the men and women who made this happen.”
But while the company was able to restore roughly two-thirds of its customers in 10 days, it appears the final third will take three times as long. May said that the drastic, unprecedented damage sustained outside the state’s major metro areas would require the company to completely rebuild those grids.
“Many of these areas will absolutely be a rebuild as opposed to a repair,” May said.
Some areas in Orleans and Jefferson Parish will also have to wait until late September for power. Communities in lower Jefferson Parish — including Grand Isle and the Lafitte area — aren’t expected to be fully restored until Sept. 29, along with areas of Orleans Parish, like Venetian Isles and other areas on the easternmost edge of the parish outside of the levee protection system.
May said restoration in those areas will come incrementally, as it has in New Orleans.
“In these hardest-hit areas, it’s gonna be the story we’ve been telling for some time. You’re gonna see the first lights at that critical infrastructure. You’re gonna see us move out from that critical infrastructure to things like commercial corridors so we have grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, those kinds of things. And then we’ll move to the neighborhoods and so forth.”
May was asked on Wednesday whether the company was considering rebuilding damaged lines underground, where they would be safer from hurricane damage. He said the company was rebuilding the system how it was when the storm hit — using mostly overhead wires.
“We are working to restore power as quickly as possible,” May said. “So it’s really not feasible to do undergrounding at this time. Certainly that’s a conversation we can have after the storm.”
Rodriguez — who was vice president of regulatory and public affairs at Entergy Texas before moving to Entergy New Orleans in May — said that in Texas, it cost 10 times as much to lay underground wires.
“I know the geography here is very different,” she said. “I know when we did any undergrounding in Texas, it would cost 10 times what it cost overhead. I don’t know what that is here. And I think we have to work with our regulators to make sure we also keep our rates affordable. It’s going to be an ongoing discussion and I think that’s something that after the storm we will absolutely have to talk through.”
May said the cost of putting the wires underground would likely be paid for by the company’s customers through their monthly bills.
“It would be an enormous undertaking that cannot be done quickly, and of course there would be costs associated with that. We certainly are open to alternative funding sources for that, but ultimately that would have to be borne by our customers.”