As Hurricane Ida swept through New Orleans on Sunday leaving destruction in its wake, it knocked out power lines and left the entire city in the dark — in spite of a pledge from a natural gas company to keep the city powered even through severe storms.
As The New York Times reported, Ida showed the weakness of the electrical grid in the area, which is reliant largely on natural gas. Though many power plants were forced to go offline, a new natural gas power plant built by utility company Entergy last year was supposed to have the reliability to keep the city powered through severe heat or storms — or so the company pledged. Entergy sources its energy largely from fossil fuels.
But, as Ida ripped through Louisiana, the storm battered the company’s equipment and brought down all eight Entergy power lines that bring in electricity from out of town. Now, many residents will be left without power for days or weeks while the company works to restore service.
The company blamed the “catastrophic intensity” of the storm for its failure to provide reliable electricity. It has thus far provided no answers for why the entire city — not just some areas — was left in the dark.
Though it’s not true that fossil fuels are as a rule more reliable than clean energy, Entergy has fiercely sold natural gas to lawmakers as a reliable alternative to clean energy sources. In lobbying the city council to allow construction of the company’s new natural gas plant in 2018, a lawyer for Entergy New Orleans said “I’m here to sound the alarm. We are at risk of cascading outages and blackouts.”
Touting its supposed reliability is a common tactic of natural gas producers and the fossil fuel industry. The industry has duped the media and lawmakers with false propaganda about natural gas in efforts to keep fossil fuels’ energy dominance in the U.S.
“Many utilities continue to sell the story that gas is the bridge that we need right now to the clean energy future,” Bill Corcoran, a director of state strategies at the Sierra Club, told The New York Times in 2019. “I think this is about locking in as much as you can now.” New Orleans was embroiled in a fight between natural gas and renewable energy — a fight that fossil fuel companies largely won.
Natural gas has a huge presence in Louisiana, which ranks among the top five states for natural gas production and storage. Though he has since signed a pledge to take the state in a carbon-neutral direction, a natural gas plant built last year had been hailed falsely by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards as a “clean energy” source — another talking point from the fossil fuel industry.
Natural gas is anything but clean, emitting powerful greenhouse gases from the release and burning of methane, which hugely contributes to the climate crisis. Still, natural gas accounts for about a third of the source for electricity in the U.S., and there are few federal policies looking to reduce the country’s reliance on it and other fossil fuels.
As a grim, cyclic result of our dependence on fossil fuel and natural gas, disasters like Hurricane Ida will only grow more frequent and intense long into the future unless the government takes action on the climate crisis.
Natural gas’s relative unreliability — and the unreliability of the U.S.’s electrical grids in general — was on display during another disaster earlier this year, when millions of residents in Texas lost power during a winter storm.
Though Republican Gov. Greg Abbott had come out early in the crisis parroting a prominent climate denier’s talking points about how the massive power outages were due to failures by the state’s wind and solar power sources. But experts later found that the disaster was likely more the fault of natural gas, upon which the state’s independent power grid is reliant, and the utility company’s failure to properly weatherize before the storm.
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