A policy requiring New Orleans’ electricity to come from sources that are both renewable and resilient to the impacts of climate change faces opposition from the utility Entergy, which threatened to sue the city and accused supporters of the proposal of engaging in the intellectual equivalent of climate denial.
Entergy has been plagued by scandal arising from its use of a contractor, the Hawthorn Group, which paid for actors to attend City Council meetings in 2017 to speak in support of Entergy’s proposal for a new $210 million gas plant.
Rather than try to repair its battered image, Entergy appears to have doubled down on an antagonistic approach in its opposition to the new clean energy policy, called the “resilient renewable portfolio standard, or R-RPS. The company accused 100% R-RPS advocates of “the intellectual equivalent of denying that climate change exists.” The R-RPS, like a renewable portfolio standard, is a mandate to achieve a targeted percentage of energy from resources that are both renewable and resilient. Advocates pushed to include resiliency in light of New Orleans’ unique risks from climate change and to increase equity.
New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno penned a sharply worded letter to Entergy New Orleans’ CEO on October 31, accusing the company of “bullying and threats,” due to its breaches “of the public trust” in a separate docket. The next month, however, Entergy continued accusing members of the Energy Future New Orleans coalition of engaging in “anti-intellectualism” and “climate solution denial”.
Entergy attacked New Orleans City Council, clean energy advocates
Entergy threatened the City of New Orleans multiple times with litigation if it adopted a 100% R-RPS “or anything like it.” Entergy continued implying it was willing to sue the City should it go further in mandating carbon reductions than the company wanted.
The company told the Council that R-RPS proposals from clean energy advocates would result in “years of litigation at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).” Should an R-RPS require Entergy to retire a resource, such as a coal plant, the company warned the Council it would be “unenforceable” and “lead to litigation”. Entergy added that if cost caps were imposed by City Council, they would be “contrary” to utility ratemaking rules in Louisiana, implying Entergy can not be directed by regulators to keep spending at bay.
Entergy reserved its most pointed language for clean energy advocates, accusing them of advocating for a minimum 65% rate increase by 2040, and engaging in what it called “the intellectual equivalent to denying that climate change exists.” Entergy ramped up its attacks on clean energy advocates in a November filing, even after being warned by Councilwoman Moreno to tone down its rhetoric on October 31. The company accused advocates of conflicts of interest with the “desire to dismantle” Entergy and said that open competition was “reckless [and] feckless”. When advocates pointed out that 19,500 New Orleans families spent 28% of their income on electric bills, Entergy claimed that advocates were minimizing the suffering of “war-torn and extremely impoverished parts of the world.”
Entergy filings with New Orleans City Council filled with inaccuracies
Entergy responded strongly to the New Orleans City Council, Council advisors, and clean energy advocates in an October 15 filing laden with misrepresentations of climate science and the Paris Climate Accord. Entergy proposed the Council adopt a “70% clean energy” standard that it claims would reduce carbon emissions by 40% from today’s levels. The company said it would only support a net-zero carbon goal as long as the goal is not mandatory or does not carry any penalties for non-compliance.
Entergy claimed a goal of 100% carbon-free electricity or net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 was impossible to achieve. However, 12 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have enacted 100% clean electricity goals or standards via legislation or executive order, according to EQ Research. Abita Springs, Louisiana committed to 100% renewable energy by the end of 2030, according to the Sierra Club.
Entergy wrongly stated that its proposed 70% clean energy standard would have a lower emissions rate than is required to meet the Paris Climate Accord. However, in its March 2019 “Climate Scenario Analysis,” Entergy questioned whether global goals for reducing carbon emissions should even be applied to individual companies. Entergy’s filing shows that its proposal would reduce emissions by only 40% by 2030, less than the 50% which the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is necessary to have a 50% chance to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less. The IPCC report gets more specific when it comes to electricity, noting that “A robust feature of 1.5°C-consistent pathways, […], is a virtually full decarbonization of the power sector around mid-century, […].” However, Entergy refused to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Entergy’s corporate carbon reduction goal would reduce the company’s emissions rate, but allow it to increase total emissions by 2032, according to an analysis from the Energy and Policy Institute. Entergy admitted its current corporate goal is inconsistent with keeping warming below 2°C in a Climate Scenario Analysis that it prepared for investors in March of 2019.
Entergy claimed it did not “have the same access to wind resources as jurisdictions in other states with better wind profiles” and that New Orleans’ solar resource was not equivalent to the desert Southwest. Entergy failed to mention that it is part of MISO, the regional transmission organization responsible for much of the ‘wind belt’ of the Great Plains. Louisiana receives as much annual sunlight as most of Florida, the Sunshine State.
The company said that installing 1000 MW of solar in Orleans Parish was “a physical impossibility,” in large part because of the urbanized nature of the Parish. The company attacked rooftop solar too, arguing that advocates were weaponizing the climate crisis as a “pretext for subsidizing the local rooftop” solar market. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory study found that the upper bound technical potential for rooftop solar in New Orleans was actually 2.1 GW, 2 times larger than what Entergy claimed was impossible.
Entergy’s struggles with resiliency, reliability
Advocates may have been motivated to include the “resiliency” aspect of the R-RPS docket by Entergy’s struggles to maintain its aging power plants and provide reliable service to much of New Orleans. Grand Gulf, a 1443 MW nuclear power plant, only operated at full power for 52.5% of the time, according to an E&E News review of federal records. 21% of the time it did not operate at all. Nuclear is one of the carbon-free resources Entergy relied upon for its 70% clean energy proposal, even in light of its own operational struggles.
The New Orleans City Council fined Entergy $1 million for years of frequent power outages stemming from poor maintenance of its distribution system. The company complained that the Council could not hold it accountable because there was not a reliability standard in place, according to an article from the Advocate. Entergy’s own data showed a significant decline in reliability after 2013.