Can New Orleans withstand climate change?
Climate change is producing more and bigger storms. Now some of these storms start in the Caribbean and rocket across the Gulf of Mexico. Fueled by the hot water in the gulf, they intensify rapidly. Big hurricanes are going to hit New Orleans again and again. We need real plans to protect our great and historic city.
The levee system surrounding the city was fortified by the Corps of Engineers. Mayor LaToya Cantrell secured state infrastructure money to upgrade the city’s storm water capacity. But Hurricane Ida exposed a glaring weakness – an easily decimated electric grid.
Expectations were high after Entergy New Orleans(EntergyNO) promised a new gas power plant would power the city even if transmission lines failed. But after Ida passed, families who survived the storms fury, were forced to evacuate. The decimated power grid and the small capacity of the power plant left people in oppressive life-threatening heat.
People were pissed. So politicians, especially those running for office, were infuriated! Chief critic in charge is City Councilmember Helena Moreno. Moreno chairs the committee that regulates Entergy. In the immediate aftermath, she angrily suggested hefty fines, revoking their contract, reducing their rates and kicking them out of the market. She denounced the company daily. Many condemn her actions as pure political theater.
But Moreno’s biggest critic is EntergyNO. They issued/ leaked a response that challenges the very relationship EntergyNO and the city enjoy. EntergyNO suggests either selling the company, spinning it off as a standalone, have the city takeover running the company or remove city council regulation and move to state level regulators.
Both sides have drawn lines in the sand. But a real solution does not require scorched earth. New Orleans must have a power grid that is able to withstand more frequent and stronger storms. EntergyNO must be a well-financed utility that provides services and generates profits. De-escalation is key.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
Moreno is correct that EntergyNO did not deliver on the promise to provide power from the gas plant. She is correct despite record profits last year, the company did little to harden the grid. People suffered for nearly a week in constant heat and humidity. There wasn’t any automatic black starting of the gas plant as EntergyNO claimed. Instead, we saw lack of maintenance on old, outdated poles and lines contribute to the misery people endured. Moreno has many backers. Some people believe EntergyNO failed our city.
But after the strongest storm to ever hit the city passed, the company pulled out all the stops. A massive restoral process occurred. Trimmers cut trees. Transformers mounted. They rerouted power from the north shore and installed new poles and lines across the city. Considering that the eight main power sources were snapped, the company unquestionably performed yeoman’s work righting the situation. Most in the city had power restored in a week.
Still the state of affairs is strained. Entergy wanted kudos for quickly restoring power. Instead, they got grief. Moreno and others used their platforms to castigate the corporate giant. We need calm heads not intensifying rhetoric.
Assertiveness and cooperativeness are to keys to conflict resolution. So far, each side has been asserting their own needs. Cooperation requires taking action to satisfy the needs of others. Collaboration is the best tool for this situation. New Orleans needs a great power company. Entergy has done business in New Orleans for 50 years. Can’t we all get along, cause another storm is brewing.