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Why Hurricane Aida crippled New Orleans grid Reuters

© Reuters. File Photo: Damaged power lines and houses can be seen days after the extratropical cyclone Ida struck Grand Isle, Louisiana, USA, on September 2, 2021.Reuters / Rear Millis


Tim McLaughlin and Stephanie Kelly

(Reuters)-Hurricane Aida’s 150 mph wind has crippled the already vulnerable power grid in Louisiana from aging power lines, power bottlenecks, and $ 2 billion worth of damage from three hurricanes last year. ..

Aida, who landed on Sunday, left an awakening of destruction and suffering. Immediately after the storm, more than a million customers lost electricity. This was a challenge for some people that could last for weeks.

Enter G Corporation Louisiana’s largest power company (NYSE :) asks tough questions about whether it was effective enough to strengthen the electrical system that lost the eight major power lines that power the New Orleans metropolitan area. Facing

Enter G was in the midst of an overall system upgrade after the 2020 Hurricane Laura. From 2017 to 2019, Enter G’s Louisiana subsidiary spent approximately $ 1.2 billion on numerous projects to improve its transmission system.

The key question for Entergy and its consumers now is how well these capital improvements have survived the wrath of the hurricane compared to the company’s old infrastructure. Enter G refused to elaborate on the age of the eight failed New Orleans power lines.

Rod West, President of Enter G’s Utility Operations Group, said: “Mother Nature is still the undisputed heavyweight champion of the undefeated world, so the lights are off.”

Hurricane Roller in southwestern Louisiana emphasized how Entergy operates a grid with two different design criteria to resist wind damage. According to Entergy’s disclosure to Louisiana’s utility regulators, recently constructed transmission lines and infrastructure can withstand winds of 140 mph and, in some cases, 150 mph.

However, most of Entergy’s Louisiana network was designed to withstand wind speeds much lower than those offered by Ida. According to Entergy’s disclosure to regulators, about one-sixth of Entergy Louisiana’s transmission system, which covers about 900 miles, consists of 69 kilovolt lines, most of which are rated only at 95 miles per hour. is not.

According to Entergy’s disclosure to Louisiana regulators, the 1970s design criteria used to build part of the network that powers New Orleans are inherited from the time Gulf States Utilities operated its transmission system. ..

Many structures of the legacy system were destroyed during last year’s Hurricane Roller, according to testimony submitted to the Louisiana Public Services Commission by Entertainment executives this year. The company has asked regulators to approve more than $ 500 million for the repair and reconstruction of power lines damaged by the 2020 hurricane. This is the cost borne by the person paying the monthly electricity bill.

Three years after Entergy merged with Gulf States in 1994, the company implemented a more robust design for grids that meet or exceed National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) standards. However, the network contains lines built to older, lower standards because it conforms to the NESC code at build time.

Praveen Malhotra, a catastrophe risk engineer and expert who studied the impact of hurricanes on transmission systems, said this would make the network more prone to outages.

“The whole system is as powerful as the weakest link,” Malhotra said.

Enter G said in a statement that much of the damage caused by Aida was related to strong winds and that some lines were cut off from their structure. The eight inoperable transmission tielines are critical because they connect the New Orleans region’s integrated transmission system to the larger country’s grid.

More powerful storm

Just weeks before Aida hits, Entertainment and construction firm Burns & McDonnell to rebuild and upgrade an old 16-mile transmission line that powers the substation from the Waterford 3 reactor in Killona, ​​Louisiana. We have started to deploy helicopters and marsh facilities. A suburb of New Orleans. As of Friday, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website stated that power lines had been disconnected from the grid and that the Waterford power plant was not producing electricity.

This is the second time in a year that a hurricane has failed to upgrade a $ 52 million transmission line. When Hurricane Laura struck in August 2020, Entergy and Burns & McDonnell separated the crew from the upgrade work so they could work to restore power to more than 200 power lines damaged by the storm. Also, according to a Burns & McDonnell news release on July 13, the planned transmission tower on the Waterford line was moved to the area damaged by Laura to advertise the resumption of the project upgrade.

When Ida landed, Entertainment was spending $ 86 million in the Parish of Laforche, including Portofoshen, to rebuild the line that was first built in 1964. The project was scheduled to be completed next year, according to Enter G’s website.

Hurricane Laura, which struck the Lake Charles region of southwestern Louisiana, almost damaged Enter G’s weaker legacy infrastructure. Michelbourg, vice president of entertainment, said in a testimony submitted to the Louisiana Public Service Commission in April that the legacy system was damaged or destroyed by the storm, but more modern work was “mostly done” by Laura. I wasn’t affected. “

The breakdown of the old line left the city of Lake Charles for 13 days without electricity yet.

Some Ida-affected customers may not be powered for a similar period or longer, especially in the suburbs. When Aida struck, 75-year-old Jim King was one of the only people in Grand Isle, a small beach community where most homes are built on stanchions that are at least 15 feet high. He said he was hoping for months of lack of electricity.

The total number of electricity-free homes and businesses in the state fell to about 823,000 on Friday after Enter G said it had restored service to about 225,000 customers. Entergy estimated on Friday that most communities should regain power by September 8.

Following the destruction, utilities are under intense pressure and scrutiny to quickly repair their lines and infrastructure to avoid long-term suffering from residential and corporate customers.

Philip May, CEO of Entertainment Louisiana LLC, said in a recent testimony to regulators that the company “needs to spend large amounts very quickly” to fund the recovery. He added that he also needs to worry about liquidity and credit ratings as he issues more debt to do so.

Extreme storm

Entergy’s challenge in the New Orleans region is to avoid multiple water bodies that limit more transmission line corridors that could undertake power distribution after another powerful storm. Lake Pontchartrain is to the north. The Gulf of Mexico is in the east. And the Mississippi River meanders through the city.

Logan Burke, executive director of the New Orleans non-profit Affordable Energy Alliance, said Entergy is trying to solve the city’s transmission problems by building more capacity in the region. But she said the company hasn’t done enough to eliminate the power bottleneck that led to the expansion of New Orleans.

New Orleans’ population density and surrounding waters provide a limited number of transmission line corridors. Without sufficient capacity, power lines will not be able to supply all the available electricity generated outside the city. Part of Entergy’s solution was to build power generation capacity physically within the New Orleans region while rebuilding and redesigning the grid section.

Louisiana has access to multiple nuclear power plants through entertainment, said Erics Smith, deputy director of the Tulane Energy Institute, and New Orleans is partially receiving electricity from its nuclear facility in Arkansaw. Added. “But if you can’t empower the city, it doesn’t matter.”

Meanwhile, stormy weather events are becoming more frequent. Experts at ICF, a Virginia-based global consulting firm, said U.S. utilities need to spend $ 500 billion to address vulnerabilities from more frequent and harsh weather patterns caused by climate change. I estimate that there is. The ICF said in a recent report that the United States experienced a $ 119 billion disaster in the 2010s, for a total of 111 over the last two decades.

This is a problem for companies still working on legacy systems dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.

“I think this hurricane was in an extreme situation, even with extreme hurricane standards,” said Larry Gasteiger, Executive Director of WIRES, an industry group that advocates investment in the necessary transmissions. everything. ”

Why Hurricane Aida crippled New Orleans grid Reuters Why Hurricane Aida crippled New Orleans grid Reuters

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