The following is a contributed article by Karl R. Rábago, a national clean energy expert who has served as a utility executive and on the Public Utility Commission in Texas, and Thad Culley, a regional director with the national, non-profit solar advocacy group Vote Solar.
Our ageing energy infrastructure and equally antiquated utilities have failed to adapt to severe weather. Now, risks to our electric grid are getting worse and the consequences are more serious because of climate disasters.
We can’t take reliable electricity service and grid resilience for granted. Electricity service is essential to modern life and survival when severe weather strikes.
But how we build our grids and the resources we rely upon determining affordability and reliability. And we have built our electric grids to be large, brittle, expensive and vulnerable.
New Orleans is especially vulnerable and, like too many of America’s great cities, it is still getting its electricity from a century’s old system that simply can’t stand up to the threats of climate change and the demands of climate responsibility.
Leading cities across the country are not waiting on Washington, D.C. or their state governments to act. Like New Orleans, these cities recognize that action is needed now to address a major and long-term challenge of resilient, clean and affordable energy services.
What lies ahead must be nothing less than a complete reimagining of the grid and utility services around ultra-high efficiency, local and resilient renewable energy. Today’s clean, reliable, cost-effective options include solar power matched with ever more affordable battery storage and smart microgrids architecture.
Utilities like Entergy haven’t and won’t solve these problems and meet these challenges on their own. The business focus of utilities today is mostly on short-term profits and yesterday’s power plants, and not on long-term social, economic and environmental sustainability. The result is higher long-term costs and worse service for customers, and the risk of stranded assets for investors.
Thanks to City Council leadership and the determined efforts of local community advocates and national experts, a workable, affordable leadership path forward has now been clearly marked.
The Energy Future New Orleans Coalition spent hundreds of hours identifying the best experiences nationwide and developed a blueprint for community renewables and resilience that would sustain New Orleans today and tomorrow. In addition, the blueprint would hold Entergy accountable for making real progress toward an energy future that is more affordable, more resilient and juster.
The coalition drew direct inspiration from recent RPS legislation in Washington state and from the experience of advocates in the District of Columbia in pushing for policies that expand access to renewable energy options and economic opportunities.