Utilities, PSC warn customers to prepare for extended outages

(iStock photo)

Though Hurricane Ida’s exact path is still somewhat uncertain, the Capital Region appears to be in the crosshairs of what will be a major hurricane when it makes landfall late this weekend, and that means the entire area will experience extended power outages.

Officials with Entergy and DEMCO, which together serve more than 1 million customers around the state, are already attempting to manage expectations.

“Floodwaters must recede, wind speed must be less than 35 mph, and debris must be removed for crews to begin working on repairs and restoration,” says DEMCO Director of Operations Mark Phillips.

Neither utility can predict how long outages might last. But anyone in Baton Rouge who lived through Hurricane Gustav in 2008, which followed a track eerily similar to Ida’s projected path, will remember that some neighborhoods were without electricity for more than two weeks.

Public Service Commissioner Dr. Craig Greene says utilities have learned from experiences like Gustav and, more recently, the four tropical systems that hit Louisiana in 2020 and a freeze earlier this year.

There have been improvements to the utility grid, better communication and planning, he says.

But is it enough?

“Our hope is that it will be better than the last one,” Greene says. “But I don’t expect it to be perfect.”

One improvement utility companies have made is in being more proactive with the number of line crews they send to an area before a storm hits, so they can be ready to begin work as soon as it’s safe, Greene says.

Also on the plus side: Rebuilding efforts in areas particularly hard hit by storms, like Lake Charles following Hurricane Laura last year, have focused on upgrading and improving grid infrastructure so it is better able to withstand future storms.

Additionally, the PSC is studying how to make the utility grid more resilient, Greene says, while balancing the need to do that affordably in a state that is the poorest in the nation.

“Our goal is a resilient grid,” he says. “But I don’t know what that looks like because of everything Louisiana takes on. It tends to be like whack-a-mole.”