for Lowered Bills and Clean Energy. Now.
“I can think of no time in history when the planet is in as much peril as it is today.” That’s something Wayne Leonard said ten years ago, and the climate crisis has only deepened since then.
Leonard was the late, great CEO of Entergy. Early in his tenure he emphasized voluntary corporate action, but in time he begged for government to regulate the emission of greenhouse gasses, to put a price on carbon. He knew what was at stake: everything we love about this world. He also realized that for-profit, publicly-traded companies like Entergy must be held to account.
The production, distribution, and use of energy emerges as the biggest single issue for sustainability in most American cities. What makes New Orleans almost unique is that we have the power to regulate our utilities. In most places, including the rest of Louisiana, Public Service Commissions regulate utilities. As a result of hard-fought battles from decades past, New Orleans City Council has regulatory authority over Entergy. Only one other American city, Washington DC, holds similar power.
You’d think that authority would translate into a really good situation for the average New Orleans resident. But it doesn’t. Quite the opposite.
Case in point: lower-income New Orleanians bear one of the highest energy burdens in the nation. Our poorest citizens spend over 20% of their income just to cover their energy bill. Compared to other metro areas, only Memphis is worse off than us.
Consider also that the City Council recently adopted a Renewable and Clean Portfolio Standard. That plan puts us on track to phase out energy generated by coal and oil and gas — so-called “dirty” options which contribute to global warming because they put carbon in the air. Most states have similar plans or goals in place; Louisiana does not. This is a step in the right direction. Entergy, however, has dragged its corporate feet every step of the way, attempting to weaken the policy.
And now they want to raise our rates, to the tune of an outrageous $25 per month, in the name of combating climate change.
Some council members act as if they are beholden to Entergy. I have accepted nothing from Entergy and will not be beholden to them
Here’s what needs to be done.
- Make sure Entergy honors the spirit and the letter of the Renewable and Clean Portfolio Standard and sticks to the timeline. We’re not obligated to wait until the last minute to meet these deadlines. Entergy can accelerate that schedule, and the Council should insist on speeding up the process. New Orleans should be leading the way, not lagging behind. Clean energy alone will not “save our bacon” from the proverbial frying-pan of global warming, but it’s an important part of the solution. We can’t afford further delays.
- Bring detailed attention to Entergy’s planning process (technically known as “integrated resource planning” or IRP) to make sure New Orleans residents get electrical service that is affordable and reliable as well as “clean and green.” Volunteers, advocates, and stakeholders have been attending IRP technical meetings, while City Council members have not. Council members have left this task to their high-priced advisors (see item 4 below).
- Investigate Entergy’s huge profits ($1.4 billion, a new record) in the face of questionable decisions and frequent outages. Maybe we wouldn’t mind the profit if they were doing the right thing.
- Stop using taxpayer dollars for outside consultants. City Council should fire the current utility consultants and build that expertise in-house. It will save us millions now and even more in the long run. The outside consultants get paid millions, and some have described their deal as effectively a “government contract for life.” They have been some of the biggest campaign contributors. Candidates should not accept that money. Let’s amend the Ethics Code for the City of New Orleans, along the lines suggested recently by the Greater New Orleans Interfaith Climate Coalition. The proposed amendment would stipulate that no councilmember or candidate accept donations from Entergy, Cox Communications, or any other entity that provides utilities or services regulated by the City Council.
- Keep rates down! This should go without saying, but given the recent news you have to wonder. The Council has this authority and should use it. The Council must reject Entergy’s current outrageous request for a rate increase and instead negotiate a rate decrease.
- Audit Entergy’s management practices. Council President Helena Moreno has said this will happen and it certainly should. The audit must be comprehensive and independent to make sure New Orleans residents are being treated fairly.
- Bring down the burden. Too many of us are paying too much of our income to utility bills. Let’s invest in community solar arrays, so everyone can benefit from the sun’s energy, even those who can’t put panels on a rooftop. Let’s run a pilot of the Customer Lowered Electricity Price (CLEP, also known as ProRate), an innovative program developed by New Orleanians. Let’s introduce an ordinance to limit the energy burden. Despite legal complexities, the Council has the authority to do this.
In 2018 I convened a series of community meetings through the Green Party aiming to develop a local platform for New Orleans. One meeting focused on ecological wisdom, the next on social justice, others on grassroots democracy, community-based economics, and so on.
Though we covered a broad range of topics, our discussions kept circling back to one issue and one entity. The issue was energy, and the entity was Entergy.
The lesson was clear. Holding Entergy accountable is the single biggest thing the City Council can do in order to improve quality of life in New Orleans. Entergy also represents the single biggest front for meaningful action on the climate crisis.
No, this won’t solve all our problems. There are many pieces in the puzzle. But this is the biggest single piece.