NEW ORLEANS - The New Orleans City Council's Utility, Cable, Telecommunications and Technology Committee voted yesterday by a vote of 4 to 1 to recommend to the full Council the approval of a 128-megawatt electric generation plant to replace the old Michoud facility in New Orleans East.
The recommendation resulted from an application by Entergy New Orleans (ENO) to build a new power plant after the nearly 50-year-old Michoud plant was shut down due to its age and inefficiency. The Committee rejected the larger 228-megawatt combustion turbine unit originally proposed by ENO as being the wrong size and the wrong technology for the city.
"We wanted to make sure that we were matching the right solution to the existing problem in the best interests of our residents and businesses," noted Councilmember Jason Williams, Chair of the Committee.
The Committee action came at the end of an extensive process that gathered evidence from the ENO, numerous intervening parties and the Council's utility advisors. The record presented to the Committee contained more than 2700 pages of written testimony and exhibits. It also contained transcripts of live testimony, mostly from experts, taken over the course of a five-day hearing last December. Also, included were over 600 pages of briefs submitted by all parties participating.
Yesterday's meeting provided the parties an opportunity to summarize and advocate their respective positions and answer Committee Members' questions. The general public was also provided an opportunity to express their views.
The plant up for consideration by the full Council is an alternative offered by ENO after issues were raised about the size and technology of their first choice. The approved unit is a reciprocating internal combustion engine or RICE unit, which the Committee concluded was the better size for the need and the far more environmentally compatible unit.
The primary concern that animated the Committee's discussions were the analyses offered by the experts most familiar with the ENO system and utility design and operations, all of whom concluded that without a new unit the city is vulnerable to situations that could cause failures that would lead to cascading blackouts in large portions of the city. Similar concerns were expressed about post-hurricane recovery without a new unit.
"For the first time in decades, we have no power generation within the borders of our city, which makes us totally dependent on transmission lines that all come from the west and are controlled by a utility we don't regulate. If a storm takes those lines out, as happened in Gustav, our utility cannot get our power up and running even if our system was not significantly damaged," noted Williams.
As to cascading blackouts, Committee member Jared Brossett said, "I have been the leading voice on the Council, supported unanimously by my colleagues, in questioning the day-to-day reliability of the ENO distribution system. We are addressing that situation in other dockets. Today, however, we are addressing something totally different and even more compelling, cascading blackouts triggered by reliability issues with the transmission system. The record overwhelmingly supports the need for the RICE unit to address that problem."
Several Committee members noted that today's decision implicates similar issues faced by the Sewerage and Water Board when critical infrastructure needs were ignored or delayed.
"I imagine a time years back when the Sewerage and Water Board might have been weighing infrastructure decisions. When some would have played down the risks and others would have argued for delay and more studies. A time when a clear and present danger was ignored. We see how that worked out. We should not allow such a mistake to occur on our watch. A risk has been clearly identified, a reasonable solution has been proposed, and we should act," said Chair Williams.
The Chair continued, "We have seen the disruptive impact that boil water advisories have had on our citizens, especially our hotels and restaurants, each and every time they happen. We simply cannot let cascading blackouts become the boil water advisories of the next decade."
"It was a complicated issue," said Committee member James Gray. "We spent a lot of time and energy hoping we got it right, and I think we did."
The Committee recommendation now goes to the full Council for consideration at its March 8th meeting.