Entergy New Orleans (ENO) unveiled its preliminary blueprint last week for a plan to provide reasonable-cost electricity through the year 2028. The plan is called the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) and will create an energy portfolio based on three criteria: reliability, lowest cost to the customer and economic risk.
Tony Walz, Entergy's director of planning analysis, says the utility is "constantly reevaluating resource alternatives and costs" and keeping tabs on emerging technologies such as wind, solar and hydroelectric. At this time, he says, renewable resources are "too costly."
"Certainly, in the future, we expect costs to go down," Walz added, noting also that nuclear power won't be economical in the next decade. Instead, the company looks to fill its portfolio with combined-cycle gas turbine power, which he called "the most attractive option."
The IRP process began in 2008. Last year, as part of preliminary planning, ENO assumed it would need to find more alternative resources because two of Entergy's six subsidiaries — in Mississippi and Arkansas — are breaking away from the Entergy system to form independent utilities. Renewable resources, in the short term, are off the table, Walz says.
He cited difficulty transporting energy from wind and solar facilities to the grid, and he worries that because those resources don't produce "on demand," ENO would have to keep other plants running, thus increasing costs. In addition, some alternative sources of energy are expensive in and of themselves. Walz said one 500 megawatt gas-fired plant produces as much electricity as 400 wind turbines — but the gas-fired plant is a $600 million investment, whereas that many wind turbines would cost $2 billion.
A long-term plan shows renewable resources potentially in the energy portfolio by the 2020s. Meanwhile, ENO hopes consumer-driven efficiency measures will help reduce the company's environmental impact and keep costs down. Melonie Hall, ENO customer service director, announced a SmartView pilot program beginning in June 2011. The program will give 7,400 low-income customers monitors to gauge their energy use in real time. The program was developed via a $5 million federal stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Entergy is accepting public comment on the IRP on its website, www.entergy-neworleans.com/IRP. — Alex Woodward