Hurricane Ida: what it will take for New Orleans to restore electricity

Two days after Hurricane Ida devastated New Orleans and its surroundings remain almost completely without electricity. Dikes, flood walls, valves, pumps and other protection prevented massive flooding, but Ida destroyed all eight transmission lines in the city, plunging neighboring parishes into darkness. Rekindling the lights will be an arduous process that does not yet have a clear timeline, but it starts with a massive recognition effort.

As of Monday, there were about a million customers without power in Louisiana and about 50,000 in southern Mississippi because of the storm. Regional power company Entergy said Tuesday it had already restored power to tens of thousands of customers and that 840,000 were still without power in Louisiana, plus 25,000 in Mississippi.

Entergy and other local utilities say they will need days to complete preliminary scouting and debris removal while they sort out the situation. “Electricity is virtually non-existent for most people in Southeast Louisiana,” Governor John Bel Edwards said. noted Monday evening. “I can’t tell you when the power is going to be on and when all the debris is going to be cleaned up, and the repairs done, and so on.” Edwards reiterated Tuesday that his office had no estimate of when power would return.

Utilities warn it could take three weeks or more to restore power to each customer, an estimate based on past recovery times, such as Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and Isaac in 2012. After hurricane devastation Katrina in 2005, it took about 40 days to be able to get back through the area.

These repeated disasters mean that utilities have a recovery plan for storms like Ida. But knowing in which order to run these sets depends entirely on the unique conditions left by each hurricane – which areas remain inaccessible for days due to flooding, and which specific system components require major repairs.

Take inventory

The damage assessment begins with a massive effort of more than 20,000 utility workers, a force made up of both local employees and reinforcements from other utilities across the country. In addition to traveling to check equipment along every inch of local power lines, crews also need to assess outages and damage to power plants, voltage transformers and substations. Crews also use drones and helicopters to conduct aerial surveys. And while they wait for the floodwaters to recede, they take boats to start dealing with the damage in areas that remain underwater.

One of the most important things to assess in Ida recovery is the condition of the transmission system. Main transmission lines are the backbone of a power grid, carrying high voltage electricity over long distances to connect power generation sites like power plants to the substations that feed power lines. local to customers.

New Orleans has eight of these high voltage transmission lines; Entergy said on Tuesday that he is still working to understand the failures of each of them. At the same time, the company is working on repairing its power plants; ideally, they are ready to generate electricity when the transmission system is able to provide it. Entergy says it is also exploring the possibility of using local generators to directly power power lines without the need for a fully operational transmission system.

Just outside New Orleans, a large transmission tower, also known as the lattice tower, fell on Sunday night due to strong Ida winds. The tower, which had remained standing during Hurricane Katrina, threw its power lines and conductor into the Mississippi River as it collapsed. Teams will have to rebuild the tower and replace all of its equipment, a construction process that takes time. Depending on the condition of other transmission lines, the project could become a choke point or simply one of many parallel efforts.

“The damage from Hurricane Ida removed much of the redundancy built into the transmission system, making it difficult to get electricity across the region to customers,” Entergy said in a statement. declaration Tuesday.

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