When Hurricane New Orleans darkens, it exposes grid weaknesses

Most of New Orleans went dark on Sunday after Hurricane Ida took over transmission lines and power outages. During stormy times, it was a popular scene in a powerless city.

But this was an interruption that should never have happened. The utility company Entergy opened a new natural gas power plant in the city last year and promised to keep the lights on – even on hot summer days and big storms. It was one of two natural gas factories in the New Orleans area in recent years, the other by Gov John Bell Edwards last year, “a source of renewable energy that will benefit our state and help our communities grow.” ”

The hurricane raises new questions for scientists as to how the energy industry is prepared for the catastrophic effects of climate change. This year, most of Texas was covered in darkness after a winter storm, and last summer authorities in California ordered it to roll during a heat wave.

More than a million residential and commercial customers in Louisiana were without power on Monday afternoon, and Intergi and other state-owned utilities said it would take weeks to assess the damage to their equipment and restore the entire state. A customer may be a family or a large business, so the number of people without power is often many times greater. In neighboring Mississippi alone, fewer than 100,000 customers were powerless.

Residents and government officials are questioning why the plant did not keep up with at least some of the city’s flow and how the eight transmission lines to New Orleans were cut off at the same time – Ingig blamed Ida’s “horrific violence.”

Monique Hardon, assistant director of public policy at the Deep Southern District Justice Center, one of the leading organizations fighting the newspaper, said: “If something goes wrong, this gas plant should have given power to New Orleans.” Planting in the city. “This requires some investigation.

Entergy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the gas plant and its transmission lines.

Climate change has hit hospitals, governments, people and businesses across the country for days or weeks without electricity. According to hurricanes, power companies and their regulators have not done enough to strengthen transmission lines and power plants to withstand high temperatures and winds. In some cases, power lines and other utilities have caused disasters, such as some of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires.

In February, winter storms plunged much of Texas into darkness for days. Many people died while trying to stay warm. Power plants, natural gas pipelines, and other infrastructure are not protected from the cold, and lawmakers have made it impossible for Texas to import power by separating the state grid from the rest of the country to avoid federal control. .

Energy experts say it is too early to say what happened to Entergy’s New Orleans gas production and transmission lines and to learn from hurricanes. However, he emphasized the need to improve the environment, including making the grid less vulnerable to major failures.

“In general, you can’t build a system that can withstand any natural disaster,” said Larry Gastiger, CEO of Wire, a trade association that builds and operates high-voltage transmission lines. But he also spoke of the need to build a more resilient system.

The Binden administration plans to spend tens of billions of dollars on additional transmission lines to transport solar and wind power from one part of the country to another. But some energy experts are arguing that the frequency of hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters is increasing over large investments in power lines and small-scale systems such as roof solar panels and batteries. Because small systems are installed in many homes, businesses, schools and other buildings, some continue to operate during and after emergencies, providing vital energy.

Former New Orleans City Council member Susan Gidry, who voted against the Enter Organis plant, said she feared the storm could cause serious damage to the city and its energy system. She wanted him to consider other options for the city and its facilities. But she, the councilors and the utility, ignored those warnings.

“We have solved that problem,” said Gidri. The point is, instead, they should improve their distribution and invest in renewable energy.

Many community groups and city leaders have opposed a gas-powered power plant south of Interstate 10 and Lake Pitchertre, which borders African American and Vietnamese neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the city council approved the plant in May 2020. It generates power when there is a great need.

About a year ago, Intergor opened a large gas station in nearby St. Charles Parish. Leo P. Denol, chairman and CEO of Entergy, described the plant last year as “a milestone in the clean energy journey we began 20 years ago.”

Some facilities have moved to bury transmission lines to protect them from strong winds and hurricanes, but Mr Gastiger said this is expensive and could lead to its own problems.

“In general, this does not mean that the facilities are not willing to do this,” he said. “People are not willing to pay for it. It is often a matter of cost. And groundwater can make it harder to find and fix problems.

Big changes to grids and power plants can take years, but New Orleans advocates and residents say authorities should look for fast-moving solutions, especially if tens of thousands of people face lights or days or weeks. Some activists want investors to give priority to investors in solar panels, batteries and micrograms that could power homes and commercial buildings, even when the big grid is down.

“We will continue to work on solutions to keep people safe in their homes,” said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of Alliance Forford Energy in New Orleans. When these events occur, we are in a dilemma because instead we spend billions of dollars every year to rebuild the same system that puts people in a dark, difficult situation.

Some residents have invested in small power systems for themselves. After Hurricane Isaac hit his home in New Orleans, Julie Graebil and her husband, Bob Smith, hit Louisiana. They had no power for five days after Isaac, and sometimes they went to their car with air conditioning. Old dogs, 67-year-old retired from Tulane University Medical School, said Grabil.

“We would sit in the car every hour,” she said. “My husband said, ‘We will never do this again.’” Mr Smith, 73, has worked as an engineer at the Royal Dutch Oil Company.

The couple set up a small power station on their porch to pay for their phones and other belongings. Only a few other houses on the street have solar panels, but no one nearby has batteries, which can store the energy generated by the panels and distribute them when the grid falls.

“We were told that we would not be able to exercise for three weeks,” said Mrs. Grabil. “People with power are only people with generators or solar panels. We lived in Katrina. This is not Katrina, so we are lucky. ”

Leave a Comment