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Plans for Entergy’s New Orleans East plant scrutinized

25th July 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Entergy New Orleans hopes to build a $216 million, natural-gas fired power plant at Michoud for start-up by 2019. Neighbors, environmentalists and others question the need for this 250-megawatt, combustion-turbine plant in New Orleans East, and say it will hurt air quality. The facility would be built on land that’s sinking.

What’s more, “it would be located close to homes, schools, churches and businesses in New Orleans East, where residents are predominantly African-American and Vietnamese American,” Monique Harden, co-director and attorney at Advocates for Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans, said last week. That fits a national pattern. “About 70 percent of power plants in the Unites States are disproportionately located near communities of color,” she said.

Entergy Louisiana's Ninemile 6 power plant in Westwego

Entergy Louisiana’s Ninemile 6 power plant in Westwego

Advocates for Environmental Human Rights is a public-interest law firm that’s assisting the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in analyzing Entergy’s proposal.

“Entergy plans to operate this plant for 15 percent of the year, at times when the company predicts New Orleans customers will use energy in excess of average supplies,” Harden said. Entergy deactivated its Michoud units 2 and 3 in New Orleans East in June.

The company needs approval from the New Orleans City Council to build. In February, Entergy New Orleans filed its final 2015 Integrated Resource Plan or IRP about the proposed plant with the council. And on June 15, the City Council held a public hearing on the matter. In a July 14 resolution, the council initiated a “show-cause proceeding,” requiring the company to submit more details about the facility.

“The proposed plant would release air pollutants that include carcinogens—such as formaldehyde, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, toluene, and xylene,” Harden said. “It would emit nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds that form smog and can damage heart and lung functions.”

Entergy’s plan to operate the plant intermittently, when power usage is higher than the average supply, would mean frequent start-ups and shut-downs, causing still more pollution in surrounding neighborhoods, Harden said.

Nationally, power plants are the single, biggest source of carbon pollution contributing to climate change, she said. And New Orleans—where sea level rise, stronger hurricanes, and longer heat waves are expected—is at high risk from global warming. “Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants contribute to climate change,” she said. “It’s urgent that we move to renewable solar and wind energy and curb emissions from plants using natural gas and other fossil fuels.”

Meanwhile, Entergy’s New Orleans subsidiary has lined up power from elsewhere. “Entergy purchased Power Block 1 at the Union Power Station from Union Power Partners in Arkansas in March, and last year Entergy New Orleans bought a 20-percent share of the Ninemile 6 Power Plant in Westwego to replace the Michoud units,” Harden said. Ninemile 6 on the West Bank of New Orleans is owned by Entergy Louisiana.

Gary Huntley, Entergy New Orleans’ vice president of regulatory affairs, discussed supplies. “The company’s decision to acquire a 20-percent share of the capacity and energy of Ninemile 6 was made, and was approved by the New Orleans City Council, before any decision to deactivate Michoud units 2 and 3,” he said last week. “Deactivation of Michoud units 2 and 3 resulted in the loss of 781 megawatts of capacity and would have caused a significant shortfall if Entergy New Orleans hadn’t acquired about 500 MW of capacity supplied by Power Block 1 at Union Power Station,” he said. Acquiring Power Block 1 reduced a capacity shortfall in New Orleans, but didn’t erase it.

Entergy’s proposed power station will serve several purposes, Huntley said. “The combustion-turbine plant will supply much-needed, locally-sourced peaking generation that will assist with local reliability needs and with storm resiliency,” he said. “Currently, except for energy produced by the 1 MW solar power plant operated by Entergy New Orleans off Chef Menteur Highway, there’s no generation within Orleans Parish. All of the city’s electricity is supplied from outside the parish.”

Huntley said other sites were considered for the new plant. “But the existing Michoud location was identified as optimal, considering proximity to fuel supplies and infrastructure already in place, along with site suitability—all of which lowers costs for customers.”

As for how often the proposed plant would operate annually in the regional MISO market, that would depend on factors in addition to estimated peaking hours in a year, Huntley said. MISO, or Electric Power Markets Midcontinent, is a transmission organization. “The percent of time that the new plant would operate would change month to month and year to year, but it’s expected to exceed 15 percent a year,” he said.

The Alliance for Affordable Energy on Washington Ave. in New Orleans believes that the city’s peak needs can be met without building a new plant. “Ways include improving energy efficiency and reducing demand; and using distributed CHP or combined heat and power, residential rooftop solar, power purchase agreements with nearby generators that have excess capacity, and other tools available to utilities to lower peak demand,” said Logan Atkinson Burke, regulatory affairs manager at the Alliance. “CHP uses distributed generation in small units that also create cooled or heated air, which can be used in large buildings for thermal needs.”

Energy-efficiency and demand-response programs include updates and tune-ups for air conditioning units; insulation; direct load-control technology for HVAC, hot water heaters and pool pumps; and Volt/Var Optimization, Atkinson Burke said. Volt/Var optimization improves a grid’s efficiency, cuts electricity waste and reduces emissions. “These options are less expensive and more appropriate than a $216 million, natural-gas plant, intended to serve the city about 53 days a year in one of its most vulnerable locations,” she said.

So far, the public hasn’t had enough time to weigh in on Entergy’s plans, according to Harden. “Although Entergy representatives say the public was notified of the IRP, we’ve found the notice issued by Entergy to be woefully deficient,” she said.

In 2008, the City Council ordered Entergy New Orleans to conduct a process that gave stakeholders the chance to provide feedback about the company’s long-term planning assumptions, Huntley said. ENO complied with notice requirements at every step of the nearly two-year 2015 IRP process, he said. The company published notices ahead of public, technical conferences and posted notices on its IRP website.

“The 2015 IRP began with a Milestone 1 technical conference on June 23, 2014,” he said. “Then Entergy New Orleans conducted a series of well-attended, technical conferences, after which many stakeholders provided feedback about our planning assumptions. The final 2015 IRP filed on Feb. 1 of this year supports our conclusion that a combustion turbine resource is needed.”

Meanwhile, the city’s demand for power has fallen in the last decade. “At the end of 2015, the number of customers served by Entergy New Orleans was approximately 92 percent of those before Katrina,” Huntley said. “And total power demand from those customers was approximately 87 percent of demand pre-Katrina. Customers are using less power in part because of efficiencies in homes and businesses rebuilt since the storm.” And, he said, his company’s Energy Smart program has spurred power-saving investments in homes and businesses.

As for the land issue, critics of the Michoud site point to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration/Louisiana State University joint study, released in mid-May. It cited Entergy’s decades of groundwater withdrawal as one of the reasons that New Orleans East is sinking, Harden said.

“The study saw a correlation between a levee break in New Orleans East and Entergy’s groundwater withdrawals,” she said. “Subsidence from industrial activity is a significant threat in New Orleans East, where quickly sinking land has reduced the effectiveness of levees.” Groundwater would be pumped at the proposed power plant, according to Entergy.

Scrutiny of the company’s Michoud plant ideas will continue this summer and fall. “The City Council hasn’t established a procedural schedule yet to consider the New Orleans Power Station plan,” Huntley said last week. “But we expect them to do so soon.”

This article originally published in the July 25, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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