New Orleans approves gas power plant over local protests

Julie Dermansky reports for DESMOG:

Despite hearing over four hours of public comments mostly in opposition, New Orleans City Council recently approved construction of a $210 million natural gas power plant in a predominantly minority neighborhood. Entergy is proposing to build this massive investment in fossil fuel infrastructure in a city already plagued by the effects of climate change.

Choosing a gas plant over renewable energy options flies in the face of the city’s own climate change plan and the mayor’s support for the Paris Climate Accord, said several of the plant’s opponents at the heated meeting when City Council ultimately voted to approve the plant.

“It is not enough to plan for how we will adapt to climate change. We must end our contribution to it,” wrote Mayor Mitch Landrieu in the introduction to the city’s climate action plan. Released in 2017, the plan calls for halving the city’s greenhouse gas pollution by 2030.

Members of a coalition opposing the plant, formed in 2016 after Entergy first announced its plans, expressed outrage that the council was unwilling to at least postpone its vote after hearing over four hours of public comments, many against it.

This coalition includes residents from New Orleans East, where the plant is slated for construction, community activists, and environmental justice groups.

Members of the New Orleans East Vietnamese community waiting to get into the New Orleans City Council meeting

New Orleans regulates its own utilities, giving the City Council direct oversight of Entergy, the company that provides power to the city. The council’s Utility Commission voted to approve the project on February 21, weeks ahead of a Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) hearing on March 6 which considered Entergy’s air permit application and the full City Council vote on March 8.

Before the public weighed in at the council meeting, the City Council’s energy consultants from Dentons US LLP, a Washington, D.C.-based utility law firm, concluded that the project was in the city’s best interest. The consultants determined that the proposed 128-megawatt plant and its seven natural gas-fired engines would ensure the city has enough power at peak energy times and avoid outages that have afflicted the city.

The plant will be built in New Orleans East, home to predominantly African-American and Vietnamese communities, an area that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has designated as a flood zone.

Among those speaking before the council vote were a few who favored the project, citing jobs and energy security as their reasons for supporting it.

Representatives of Entergy in the front row at the New Orleans City Council meeting.

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