In Louisiana, the impact of Hurricane Ida has revived the justice debate over a 128-MW, $210-million natural gas power plant completed last year by utility Entergy in New Orleans as an emergency supply, despite fierce opposition from its mostly Black and Vietnamese community neighbors. The plant did not operate for two days after the storm hit on Aug. 29, and then supplied power only for a small area.
Courts upheld city approvals of the plant in challenges led by the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, even as officials fined Entergy $5 million in 2018 for hiring actors as plant supporters at hearings. In a statement, Entergy said full power restoration “will still take time given the significant damage across the region,” with one executive pointing to “a lot of misinformation out there.” A council probe into the power failure could take months, with disputes set to continue between community advocates and officials.
But utilities are boosting attention to impacts in the fast-moving energy transition. “Investors are asking for these to be addressed and for proof. That has caused some to go back to the drawing board, while others realize the current operational footprint near an EJ or sensitive community may not be sustainable,” says Sara Mochrie, vice president and environment market director, energy at design firm WSP USA. “if an existing power generation facility that has been operating adjacent to a neighborhood for 40 years and with recent change in state regulations, its future permits may not be renewed without significant changes in operation to reduce impacts. The concern is that many of the regulatory changes did not come with specific instructions for a path forward, so acquisitions of new approvals don’t come with a playbook and that creates risk and uncertainty.”