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Entergy Collaborates with Customers and Communities on Renewable Energy Solutions

By Andrew Owens, Director, Regulatory Research

Posted June 20, 2018 in Economic Development, Site Selection

Last month Entergy New Orleans reached a milestone approval for an innovative urban solar energy solution – a $15 million project to construct 5 MW in aggregate of utility-owned, distributed-scale solar photovoltaic systems.

Secured by long-term leases, these systems will be located on customer-owned rooftops across New Orleans. Entergy New Orleans is finalizing construction of an ~ 200-kW rooftop system on one of our own buildings in New Orleans, and with the regulatory approval from the City Council, we will begin work on other locations.

The New Orleans project is a good example of how Entergy works with customers and communities throughout our region to find renewable energy solutions that make the best use of available resources.  It’s also a good example of Entergy’s efforts to develop utility-scale renewables that offer operational performance at lower costs.

Opportunity for innovation

My role at Entergy is providing regulatory and policy support to Entergy’s five regulated utilities related to emerging technologies, including renewables.  I’ve seen the New Orleans rooftop solar project through from the beginning, and it illustrates how Entergy’s work with renewables is ever-evolving as we develop and explore new ideas and technologies.

Efforts to expand renewables in New Orleans began when Entergy New Orleans initiated an innovative project in 2015 to construct a 1 MW solar + Li-ion battery system.  As that project was being readied for construction in early 2015, we considered what we had learned so far and how we might further expand solar efforts in New Orleans given its densely populated, urban geography and lack of suitable sites for ground-mounted solar.

At the time, New Orleans already had several thousand residential customers who had installed rooftop solar PV systems, and it seemed like there should be a way to expand utility-owned solar to larger rooftops.  After researching the idea, we found a solar company to help us implement our vision.

For more than two years, we have worked through the necessary processes to be where we are today: partnering with our customers in New Orleans to lease their roofs to construct utility-owned solar PV systems.

The project is expected to provide a number of benefits including fulfilling Entergy New Orleans’ commitment to add 100 MW of renewable resources, gaining more experience with distributed-scale systems, delivering economic benefits from increased jobs and local investment and partnering with customers to help them reach their sustainability goals.

Moving from cost-prohibitive toward cost-competitive

During the 20 years I’ve worked for Entergy, much has changed in renewables technology as well as the costs associated with renewable energy production.  These changes have created new opportunities to incorporate more renewables into Entergy’s utility supply portfolios ­– especially over the past few years.

Here’s a good example: In 2009, I was involved in a proceeding at the Louisiana Public Service Commission that evaluated the costs and benefits of adding more renewable energy in Louisiana.  As part of that process, Entergy Louisiana issued a renewables RFP in December 2010, and spent much of 2011 evaluating many bids.  Three renewable resources representing approximately 40 MW eventually were approved and constructed, consisting of agricultural biomass, landfill gas and waste heat recovery technologies.  We received several proposals for solar PV, but relative to other technologies, all of them were much more expensive than the resources selected.

Fast forward to May 2018, when three of Entergy’s utilities reached important regulatory milestones related to proposed solar PV projects – one of those was the New Orleans project I described here.

While we are adding more renewable energy resources today, it’s not surprising that renewables still make up a modest percentage of our utilities’ supply portfolio.  Factors driving that include the geography of our four-state region and limitations on the potential for cost-effective wind resources.  Other considerations impacting adding more renewables are our commitment to maintain low rates for our customers and to manage carbon emissions in ways that yield the best results at the lowest costs.  To that end, our increased use of modern, gas-fired generation and nuclear has led to recognition as an environmentally and socially-responsible utility with one of the cleanest generating fleets in the United States.

Entergy’s history follows a trajectory of using new technologies to transform the way we deliver energy and sustainable value to customers and communities.  Looking back over a century, we moved from burning sawdust to oil, from coal to natural gas and nuclear power and today, we’re using new technologies to add more renewable energy resources.

Growing momentum in renewable energy development

Building on these efforts, we’re working on other renewable energy concepts that expand our investments to meet the needs our customers have expressed.  If you would like to learn more about these efforts and solar PV, or if you have ideas you would be interested in exploring with us, please contact us.

Andrew joined Entergy in 1998 and currently serves as Director, Regulatory Research. He and his team provide regulatory support to Entergy’s five regulated utilities on emerging technology issues (smart grid, energy efficiency and demand response, renewables, etc.). He has engineering and management degrees from Iowa State and Georgia Tech, respectively, and is a registered professional engineer in Georgia and licensed CPA in Louisiana.