Louisiana residents use more power per person than any of other state — and are stuck pouring money into an outdated, unreliable power system.
Louisianans use a lot of electricity. More power per person than residents of any other state, in fact. Nearly 70 percent of Bayou State households use electric heating, and almost all have air conditioning. With hot summer droughts and frequent flooding, keeping power supply reliable and low-cost is critical.
Yet some local and state regulators are standing in the way of commonsense grid expansion projects that would help achieve those goals. While Midwestern neighbors to the north consider major electric transmission projects to solve these challenges and deliver significant cost savings and benefits, Louisianans are stuck pouring money into an outdated, unreliable power system.
In recent years, extreme weather events — including torrential rains, deadly tornadoes, hard freezes, droughts, wildfires, and devastating hurricanes — have become increasingly frequent and intense in the Bayou State. Louisiana leads the nation as the state most impacted by billion-dollar natural disasters since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
An updated, well-connected power grid is critical to shielding the state from the worst financial and life-threatening impacts of these weather extremes. For example, during Winter Storm Uri in 2021, grid operators in the Great Plains and Midwest kept the lights on by importing electricity from neighboring regions. In contrast, the Texas power grid – which remains largely unconnected to nearby states – experienced significant power outages that cost billions of dollars and resulted in the loss of lives.
But even regions with comparatively well-connected grids could have benefited from additional transmission capacity during the storm. The regional grid operator serving Louisiana could have saved more than $80 million for each additional gigawatt of transmission ties to neighboring regions. A few months later, the state’s grid came up short again with deadly consequences after Hurricane Ida devastated aging infrastructure and left nearly a million people without power, thousands of whom waited in the dark for weeks.
Louisianans deserve the safety and security of a modern, updated electricity system that can better withstand these extreme events.
Last year, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) — the grid operator covering portions of states from Louisiana to Minnesota — approved 18 new transmission lines as part of its Long-Range Transmission Planning. Those projects will generate approximately $37 billion in cost savings for states in the northern portion of MISO’s territory, more than three times the cost of the project portfolio. They will also enable more than 50,000 megawatts of new renewable energy resources, enough to power 12-14 million homes , which means new jobs and investment in rural communities.
But the cost savings and benefits associated with a well-connected grid — such as resilience in the face of extreme weather and the integration of new, low-cost renewable energy resources — have not been adequately acknowledged by regulators in the South. In fact, Louisiana and New Orleans regulators have recently taken steps to diminish these benefits.
Some regulators publicly opposed the cost-sharing proposal offered by MISO as the grid operator looks to plan the first group of new regional transmission lines that will benefit Louisiana. The cost-sharing proposal was based on the methodology that had worked for northern states and is considered an industry best practice for developing the type of large-scale lines that can keep costs down and the grid reliable. These regulators are simply ignoring the proven, broad benefits of an interconnected grid and imposing unnecessary hurdles to grid planning that will improve resilience, integrate new, low-cost renewable resources, and facilitate economic development.
If planned carefully, infrastructure investments can also yield significant economic benefits for Louisiana’s rural communities by enabling the development of new solar energy projects. As those projects come online, they’ll reduce air pollution for urban communities as older, more expensive energy generation retires.
There are currently more than 30,000 megawatts of wind, solar, battery storage, and hybrid projects waiting to connect to Louisiana’s power grid that will drive local investment and job growth if deployed. But their development is hampered by limited capacity on the grid.
Which is why it’s time for state regulators to ensure the type of transmission investments that will bring these critical projects online. Without recognizing the full benefits of new electrical transmission, and creating a reasonable way to pay for those upgrades with neighboring states, infrastructure improvements are dead in the water.
As a former regulator, I understand the importance of carefully considering every cost when approving new transmission projects. But failing to facilitate commonsense grid expansions comes at the greatest cost to consumers, leaving billions of dollars of economic development on the table and potentially sacrificing system reliability. We can either pay for transmission improvements on our utility bill or pay for a lack of investments while sitting in the dark.
It’s time for Louisiana and certain New Orleans regulators to stop standing in the way of the grid of the future and start paving the way for a resilient and affordable electricity system.
Ted Thomas is the former chair of the Arkansas Public Service Commission and the founding partner at Energize Strategies.
LOCAL AND STATE REGULATORS WHO GOVERN STATE GRID ISSUES
|IN NEW ORLEANS, THE CITY COUNCIL
SERVES AS REGULATORS
|Councilmember at-large Helena Moreno
|Councilmember at-large JP Morrell
|District A Councilmember Joe Giarrusso III
|District B Councilmember Lesli Harris
|District C Councilmember Freddie King III
|District D Councilmember Eugene Green
|District E Councilmember Oliver Thomas
|FOR LOUISIANA, THE STATE’S
FIVE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONERS
|District 1 Commissioner Eric Skrmetta
|District 2 Commissioner Craig Greene
|District 3 Commissioner Davante Lewis
|District 4 Commissioner Mike Francis
|District 5 Commissioner Foster Campbell