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Louisiana Power Provider Shares How — And When — The Company Will Repair Outages

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The lights are out in New Orleans after Hurricane Ida knocked out all transmission lines that deliver power to the city. The extent of the storm damage is yet to be known, but residents in New Orleans and beyond could be without power for weeks. For more on what we do know about the power outages and how long it might take to fix, we're joined by Rod West in New Orleans. He's group president of utility operations for Entergy Corporation. The company provides power to four states, including Louisiana.

Thank you for joining us.

ROD WEST: All right. Thank you for having me. I appreciate the time.

FADEL: If you could begin by giving us a brief description of what your company faces in terms of outages.

WEST: Well, to - at this moment, I think the number is just south of 900,000 power outages in Louisiana due to Ida's destruction. And the power outages continue to increase today as the storm moved through Louisiana into Mississippi. And they are, at this very moment, experiencing the remnants of Ida's fury.

FADEL: So how do you approach repairs, getting people back online with this many outages?

WEST: Well, if you think about the grid - and I've tried to give folks a graphic - think about a spider web with a number of intersecting lines. When you think about transmission lines, don't think about it as an extension cord, as I heard earlier today. I said, no, it's not an extension cord. Think about it as a spider web. And we work outside-in to bring power to the communities. Our priorities after a storm - certainly we do damage assessment first as a process. But when we begin to bring power back to the communities, our priorities are hospitals, police departments, fire departments, assisted living. Those types of facilities where those who are most vulnerable and in need of energy - we're trying to get them on first.

But with a blackout event the way that this is, where our transmission system was compromised by this catastrophic storm, our objective is to find ways to energize those downed transmission facilities. And so it's going to be an outside-in process, and then we'll be focusing on the priorities as I just described. But we're in the damage assessment phase right now, where from the moment the sun came up, we've had drones and planes and helicopters in the air and the men and women of Entergy on the ground actually assessing the impact of this storm.

And that process normally takes several days, depending upon our ability to safely access the area. And at that point, we get the damage assessment report that winds up turning into the beginnings of a restoration plan. And it is that plan when we have an idea of what we're actually seeking to correct when we can begin to give information to customers around the estimated time of restoration.

FADEL: So if it takes days to assess the damage, then what is the timeline for people to come back online? We're hearing weeks. Is that right?

WEST: Well, you heard weeks because we were giving an initial outlook of our estimated response where we think we can begin getting the lion's share of customers back on. But the specific time frame - that comes when we actually know what we're correcting because we were asked - even while the storm was still ravaging the service area, we were asked, well, how long is it going to take to restore the power? And the honest answer is we won't be able to know that until we know exactly what the damage is. We know how many people are out. We know where they're out. But why they're out is the purpose of the damage assessment.

And we're good at this. This is not new to us. We operate along the Gulf Coast, where storms are a normal part of life. This particular one had a significant impact because of its intensity and its proximity to the metropolitan New Orleans area. So it's - this was a little bit different than others - more like Katrina, some remnants of Laura but more of a wind event where Katrina was a water event.

FADEL: So likely weeks before people will see any power back in their homes. That's Rod West, group president of utility operations for Entergy, a power company providing energy to customers in four states, including Louisiana.

Thank you so much for joining us.

WEST: I appreciate the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 30, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier description for this segment mistakenly referred to Rod West as the vice president of Entergy. West is the group president of Entergy utility operations.