The three candidates seeking to succeed Stacy Head as the new At-Large member of the New Orleans City Council all expressed doubts Saturday about the need for a new gas-fired Entergy power station in New Orleans East in the face of residents’ opposition there.
Since the summer of 2016, Entergy has been seeking the City Council’s permission to built a new 226-megawatt plant on the former Michoud site on Old Gentilly Road, but the plan has drawn opposition from both neighborhood residents in New Orleans East and environmental groups such as the Alliance for Affordable Energy. Last month, Entergy offered to scale back its plans with a smaller option with a reciprocating engines instead of combustion turbines that would generate only 128-megawatts of power, according to The New Orleans Advocate.
The candidates for Head’s seat on the Council were asked on their views about the plant by Renate Heurich, a member of the Louisiana 350 environmental-activism group, during a forum Saturday afternoon. The new plant “would raise the average customer bill by at least $6 — that’s Entergy’s number,” Heurich said, and it represents “a piece of fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when the world is moving rapidly toward clean and renewable sources of energy.”
“We are advocating for energy efficiency and demand-side management,” Heurich said, saying that reliability issues stem from weaknesses in the power grid, not an overall shortage of power.
State Rep. Joe Bouie, answering first, said he is aware that residents nearby are “grossly opposed” to the plant, so he would ensure their questions are fully answered first. He shares their concerns, he said, describing himself as an advocate of environmental justice, such as preventing the Booker T. Washington school from being rebuilt until the former dump site it sits atop can be completely remediated.
“As a council person, I would need to take the position of residents, in terms of why they’re concerned. What I would do is convene Entergy and the residents, and let’s talk about it,” Bouie said. “My interest will be to clear up the smoke in the room about what this proposal truly will do, and if it turns out to be a scam for something else, I would be with the residents. Starting out, I would be with them.”
State Rep. Helena Moreno said hopes New Orleans will generally become a leader on environmental issues such as energy efficiency. The Entergy plant proposal needs to be reviewed by outside experts to determine whether it is actually needed, she said, before the City Council should move forward with such an important and controversial vote.
“There are certainly a lot of concerns coming from the neighborhoods. I’ve heard them repeatedly. I was also a little bit concerned when I saw that Entergy was pushing for a vote to happen immediately,” Moreno said. “What I would personally like to see — there’s a push to do this, and I’ve talked to some current council members about this as well — is for there to be a true, third-party independent review, so we really can understand what’s happening with this situation.”
Businessman Kenneth Cutno said if the residents oppose it, he will too. Entergy wastes too much money already, he said, so he promised to stand up to them on behalf of residents.
“If the people feels like there’s no need for it, there’s no need for it,” Cutno said.
The question came during a forum Saturday afternoon at Temple Sinai hosted by Indivisible NOLA, a progressive civic engagement group.
The candidates also discussed their views on unifying all New Orleans’ parks into a single system, as well as other topics. To read our report on that issue and our live coverage of the other issues, see our report from Saturday.