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Entergy accused of trying to rush $1.9 billion grid upgrade approval, with customers covering cost

Transmission towers carry electricity in LaPlace on Dec. 28, 2021.
Wesley Muller
Louisiana Illuminator
Transmission towers carry electricity in LaPlace on Dec. 28, 2021.

This story was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator.

Entergy’s largest subsidiary is asking state utility regulators to approve a $1.9 billion “grid hardening” plan for power transmission and distribution infrastructure. Customers would pay for the work over five years through surcharges on their monthly bills, and the company wants a decision made by Friday — just days after it filed the final draft of the proposal.

Entergy Louisiana submitted its “Future Ready Resilience Plan (Phase 1)” docket Monday to the Louisiana Public Service Commission, requesting a fast-track approval at the commission’s next meeting, which will be held Friday. The company provides electricity to about 1 million customers in 58 parishes, not including 208,000 ratepayers under Entergy New Orleans.

Public Service Commissioner Davanté Lewis, D-Baton Rouge, is not happy about the late-hour filing and issued a press release to that effect Wednesday. Entergy is asking to pass along the cost of substantial maintenance spending and upgrades but has obscured substantial details of the plan, citing “contractor confidentiality agreements,” he said.

“We should not rush through a process with a $1.9 billion price tag for customers,” Lewis said in his statement. “If this is truly what is best for Entergy customers, then another month of work would be perfectly acceptable, welcomed even. The public deserves to know more and have the chance to be heard in decisions of this magnitude.”

Lewis said he supports grid-hardening improvements for Louisiana but needs more details on the projects before sticking Entergy customers with such a big rate hike. The plan could cost the average customer an extra $8 per month, he said. Over five years, the total would come close to $500 per household.

Lewis accused the company of trying to rush the process in an effort to satisfy its shareholders who are scheduled to review electricity rate increases and earnings next week.

“Like all Louisianans, I would love to see the kind of grid improvements that get us back on track faster after storms, but I need to be certain I am equipped to represent the public, who have no other choice but to buy their power from these companies from month to month,” Lewis said. “Transparent, deliberative decision-making is already difficult to achieve when specifics of this proposal are deemed proprietary and confidential to Entergy’s outside contractors.”

Entergy disagreed with Lewis’ description of the situation and said the company actually filed its resiliency plan application 16 months ago. Entergy Louisiana spokesperson Brandon Scardigli said the company hasn’t rushed the process but wants to be able to implement upgrades in time for hurricane season, which begins June 1.

“Now is the time to take the necessary steps to harden Louisiana’s electric grid which will benefit residents and businesses by reducing the cost of future restoration and shortening the duration of outages following storms, allowing Louisiana to get back to normal faster,” Scardigli said in an email.

When asked about some of its proposed upgrades, the company would not offer specifics, saying only that the plan involves “thousands of projects aimed at reinforcing critical structures on both the transmission and distribution systems.”

Lewis pointed out that although Entergy filed its initial application 16 months ago, the company did not file its final draft until Monday.

Commissioner Craig Greene, R-Baton Rouge, was less concerned when asked about the proposal.

“It’s time for Louisiana to be better prepared for storms we know are coming,” Greene said in a statement. “It’s not if but when. A hardened grid is a must. We’ve studied this for years and have a solid plan for a stronger grid and a method to ensure Entergy has skin in the game and will be held accountable on a yearly basis by a third party. It’s time for a stronger Louisiana.”

The commission’s meeting Friday will be held in the city of Many, in Louisiana’s Toledo Bend area near the Texas border. Its members typically convene monthly in Baton Rouge but periodically hold meetings around the state.