Sept. 22--Entergy officials hoping to find support among City Council hopefuls for their plan to build a new power plant in New Orleans East would have been disappointed at a candidates' forum Wednesday night focused on energy issues.
The forum was sponsored by the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a local citizens group that has been critical of Entergy New Orleans' proposed natural-gas plant, which would be built on the site of the utility's retired 1960s-era Michoud plant.
Taking the stage in two groups, the candidates included Tilman Hardy, Aylin Acikalin Maklansky, Drew Ward and Toyia Washington-Kendrick, who are running in District A; Eugene Ben-Oluwole, Andre Strumer and Timothy David Ray, in District B; Kristin Gisleson Palmer and incumbent Nadine Ramsey, in District C; incumbent James Gray and Dawn Hebert, in District E; and David Gregory Nowak, running for the District 2 at-large post.
A number of the leading candidates, especially in District B and the at-large races, skipped the event.
Since it was unveiled last year, Entergy's proposal to replace the local plant has run up against opposition from neighbors and environmentalists, and the City Council's Utility Committee has postponed a decision on it until next year.
Initially, Entergy proposed building a 226-megawatt power plant at the Old Gentilly Road site, at a price tag of about $232 million, to be paid by customers. For the most part, the facility would sit idle, except during hours of peak demand or in an emergency such as when power from other sources is lost during or after a hurricane.
After pushback from critics, Entergy offered a scaled-down alternative proposal: a 128-megawatt plant, which would cost about $210 million. At the City Council's request, the second proposal also includes a feature allowing officials to quickly start the plant operating in case other power sources were cut off in a storm.
While Entergy insists that either plant would make its grid more reliable, critics including the Alliance have said the utility should instead look to bolster its power generation using alternative sources like solar power.
When the 12 candidates were asked Wednesday about the proposed plant, none rose to defend Entergy's effort. Instead, they largely sounded a common refrain: that New Orleans needs to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and focus on using renewable energy sources.
Of course, that position was in harmony with the views of the forum's sponsor -- a point that the group's executive director, Logan Burke, made clear when she introduced the question by saying that "many cost-efficient alternatives could solve New Orleans' energy needs."
The candidates seemed to take their cue from her words.
"I don't need to see any more studies on it. I know the simple fact that carbon consumption is going to kill this city," Nowak said. Of the power plant, he added, "I don't think that's necessarily anything that any of our residents are looking for as far as bold vision in fixing our issues."
Hardy agreed, saying, "The fact that Entergy is more focused on profits than people should be our main issue at this point." The plant's projected cost, he said, is "just ridiculous," and he suggested the utility consider financing energy-efficiency upgrades for its customers.
Palmer, who served on the council from 2010 to 2014 and was an alternate member of the Utility Committee, struck a more measured tone, saying that "studies are needed," but stipulating that discussion of the plant should be done as part of Entergy's integrated resource planning, which lays out a road map for the company and the energy it will provide over the next few years.
"I don't think an independent study is the end-all, be-all," Ramsey said, suggesting that the council should also consider whether there are "any viable alternatives" to the proposed plant. "We have to make sure we have neighborhood input and neighborhood engagement," she added.
During the forum, many of the candidates talked broadly about how the city can -- and should -- become a national leader in green technology.
"Without a doubt, we need to move to a place where we make better use of alternative sources of energy and also where we save more energy," Gray said.
Ward said the city should look to the Mississippi River to meet some of its energy needs.
"Here in New Orleans, we have the capacity to generate not only the power we need in New Orleans, but generate so much more. We can become a green-energy exporter and make money for the city," he said.
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