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Louisiana PSC OKs $2 billion upgrade to Entergy power grid: How high will bills climb?

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BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Public Service Commission on Friday, working on four days' notice, approved Entergy's plan to upgrade its power grid and bill ratepayers for the $1.9 billion project. 

The average electric bill for Entergy's 1 million Louisiana customers would go up by 57 cents a month to start, peak at an extra $7 a month in five years and then gradually decrease. 

"There's this giant check that's been written and the Public Service Commission is about to sign it," said Erin Hansen, a representative of Together Louisiana, which opposed the plan.  "That check is linked to our bank account."

Meeting in Many, the PSC voted 3-2 to OK the Entergy Future Ready Resilience Plan. The utility said the 10-year initiative would "accelerate the restoration of power and reduce the costs associated with doing so following major storms."

Entergy Louisiana initially pitched the plan in December 2022, after a series of hurricanes decimated its infrastructure in 2020 and 2021. Hurricanes Laura and Delta came ashore in southwestern Louisiana in 2020; Zeta hit New Orleans later in 2020, and Ida followed a path from Grand Isle to west of Hammond in 2021.

The company said that the first phase of the plan, which would take five years to complete, includes 2,100 projects targeting transmission and distribution systems.

“Our resilience plan is a proactive approach that will help bring more of our electric infrastructure up to higher standards, keep pace with Mother Nature and protect what matters most — customers, homes and businesses within the communities we serve,” said Phillip May, Entergy Louisiana president and CEO.

The state's largest utility said the plan would save an estimated $1.2 billion in future storm restoration costs that can be avoided. It also said the work would make the power grid more reliable.

The approval came despite complaints that the PSC wasn't given enough time to study the proposal. The utility filed the plan's details Monday.

"If this is such a big policy question we are taking up, shouldn't we give staff, commissioners and stakeholders ample opportunity to investigate and interrogate this proposed plan?" Commissioner Davanté Lewis said. "I have received 90 emails in the last day to say 'please give us more time to understand this.'"

Lewis speculated that the urgency had more to do with Entergy holding an earnings call with investors Tuesday.

"I think this is a bad precedent for us to take," Lewis said. 

Lewis also criticized Entergy for introducing two amendments to the proposal on Wednesday, only two days before the commission was set to vote.

The other opponent of the proposal, Commissioner Foster Campbell, asked the panel to delay the vote until May, but his idea died on a 2-3 vote.

The timing of the proposal's delivery to the commission raised complaints that the utility wasn't being fully transparent.

"We believe that decision's that happen in the light of day better reflect the interests of regular people who those decisions affect, and decisions that are made rushed, under the cover of darkness, tend to represent special interests," Hansen said.

Hansen's concerns echoed those shared by representatives of the Alliance for Affordable Energy.

Entergy said it would provide quarterly monitoring and construction reports so the public is aware of how work is progressing.

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