Entergy CEO admits mistakes were made

Says company had difficulty organizing 11,000 repair workers

September 07, 2012 at 9:21 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Winds from Hurricane Isaac knocked down this power line on the Grand Ridge Golf Club in Willowdale.
Bruce McDonald
Winds from Hurricane Isaac knocked down this power line on the Grand Ridge Golf Club in Willowdale.
Some St. Charles Parish residents went more than a week without power, but Entergy Louisiana CEO Bill Mohl said repairmen did everything they could to restore power to the parish as quickly as possible.

"Our No. 1 priority is safety," Mohl said. "Our folks are working diligently to get customers back as quickly as possible and we do understand their frustration."

Mohl said part of the delay stems from the energy company’s difficulty in organizing the 11,000 repair workers that flooded into the area from 24 states.

"One of our staging sites in Slidell got closed so we ended up with a huge shot of resources into the New Orleans metro area and that caused logistical problems–some delays," Mohl said. "As we were trying to get some of those folks rolled out we were dealing with a huge number of resources. We had some start up issues associated with that."

Mohl said the bigger issue is that the storm was slow moving and high winds pummeled the area for around 30 hours, which resulted in more damage than anticipated.

"We had over 700,000 customers out after Isaac, extensive damage," Mohl said. "It was the fourth worst storm in our history in terms of outages."

In addition, Mohl said people were expecting less damage from a Category 1 hurricane so many residents stayed in the area rather than evacuating.

"I think people’s perspective is that ‘this is a Category 1 hurricane and you guys should be able to respond quicker.’ Well it was a Category 1 that sat there and sat there and sat there and did extensive damage," Mohl said.

In St. Charles Parish alone 18,000 out of 22,000 customers were without power the day after the storm. As of Friday, the parish government reported that a few hundred customers were still without power.

Entergy at first anticipated the repairs would take two to four days before changing their projection to five days. Company officials were then reluctant to put a time frame on restoration efforts but had said 90 percent of customers in St. Charles Parish would have their power restored by Monday night.

That didn’t happen.

Meanwhile, other electric companies in the Metro New Orleans area, such as Cleco and South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association, quickly reached 100 percent restoration.

Mohl said he was unsure of how much damage other companies saw in their coverage areas in comparison to Entergy’s and whether there was a difference in the way the other power companies responded to outages.

"I want to say congratulations for restoring the power as they did. I really don’t know what their situation was versus ours," Mohl said. "If that is something folks want to look at they can look at it after the fact, but it is really difficult for me to comment on that at this point in time."

In a statement released Friday night, Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said he was satisfied with Entergy’s progress. In contrast, Jefferson Parish President John Young held a press conference where he cited Entergy’s "failure to perform" and suggested the Louisiana Public Service Commission levy a $500,000 fine against the company. He also said he may attempt to have the Louisiana Legislature pass laws to encourage competition between electric providers throughout the state.

Mohl said he would leave it up to legislators to weigh the pros and cons of opening up the electric market and that commission review after a storm is a given.

"Everything we do gets reviewed by the Public Service Commission. So it’s our responsibility when we make a request for storm recovery. The burden of proof is on us that we need to show we do things prudently," Mohl said.

Mohl said Entergy will be able learn a few things from Hurricane Isaac.

"Every storm is different and we go through lessons learned every time we go through one of these. We learn where we need to make adjustments and we understand customer’s frustrations," Mohl said. "We feel like overall we are making good progress, but we understand those frustrations and we are really trying to a better job to get information out there to those customers that are still out so that they can understand when their power can be restored."

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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