New Orleans, LA – After Hurricane Ida made landfall in south Louisiana, around 1 million people lost electricity and suffered sweltering heat for days. Even a full week after the storm, many are relying on community members and limited government aid to get by without power. Unsurprisingly, many started to look towards the private utility monopoly, Entergy.
In a widely shared Facebook post, city councilmember Helena Moreno said, “Moving past this storm and restoration though, there will be some questions that must be answered.” To begin answering these questions, Fight Back! interviewed an Entergy worker who was at the eye of this infrastructure disaster.
We are not publishing the worker’s name due concerns about retaliation.
Fight Back!: What were conditions like at your worksite before and during the storm, and during the recovery?
Right before the storm there was some preparation, like tying down loose items outside and moving anything likely to be blown away into alternate storage locations. There wasn’t a lot of concern from supervisors. In fact, my own supervisor seemed upset with the lack of concern coming from his bosses during conference calls, etc.
During the storm, things were very unorganized. It wasn’t clear where people were supposed to sleep since we had to confine ourselves to a certain area of the plant. No one was sure what we had to eat. We had to shut down our plant due to high wind and due to the same wind we lost offsite power, which caused us to have to rely on emergency generators. Everything worked as designed, thankfully. This also happened during Katrina and was expected. We were all given air mattresses to sleep on. We had no air conditioning and little lighting. So I would imagine the experiences I had during the storm were similar to people who were at home. There was hardly any food. But I brought some snacks with me, thankfully. We were also asked to “limit” water and bathroom use since our sewerage removal capabilities got worse because of the storm.
Immediately after the storm, we were sent around to assess damage. It looked like a bomb went off. There was metal, pieces of insulation, mud, trash and water everywhere. We had no wi-fi and weak signal, so I couldn’t really communicate with my partner. Most of the other crewmembers had evacuated so we were stuck there and couldn’t leave to check on our houses and loved ones. We had to work.
Fight Back!: What preparations, inspections, etc. were made to prepare for storm impacts?
So in general, Entergy doesn’t like to spend money fixing things unless they have to. Things often leak, or don’t work properly. It’s not usually something that causes workers to be in dangerous situations, at least no more dangerous than normal, but it’s things that make your job more difficult. They really don’t care how burdensome something becomes as long as they’re making money, of course. So keep in mind that the sewerage removal system wasn’t working properly prior to the storm.
Fight Back!: When did your bosses make you aware of the severity of the power situation in the New Orleans area?
I knew beforehand that the power grid would be seriously threatened. My bosses never even discussed that.
Fight Back!: Why were initial projections of when Entergy would restore power so uncertain, with some projections as long as three weeks?
The estimates took so long and inconsistent information was given because at first, they literally just didn’t know what to tell the public. This storm exposed the inadequacies of our grid and they simply did not know exactly how long it would take to fix everything. But that’s only a part of it.
Since this storm required an emergency declaration, FEMA and Entergy had to determine who would pay for the bulk of the labor costs associated with restoration efforts. There were thousands upon thousands of workers that came from other states to assist. This required working with other utility companies, government agencies, and unions. Things like per diem, lodging, fuel and food, along with wages and overtime pay, hazard pay, etc. all has to be negotiated prior to anyone starting work. But the biggest question was would Entergy pay or would the government, or both? So that, along with doing the actual assessments, is why the estimates were originally so unclear. I believe the resolution was for both Entergy and FEMA to pay portions but I don’t know the details.
Fight Back!: In your opinion does Entergy hold itself accountable to the people of New Orleans? Is it responsible enough to remain in its role as monopoly energy supplier in the city?
In my opinion Entergy does not feel accountable to its customers – referred to by them as “ratepayers” – or its employees. They pass on any unexpected costs to your bill. And they are very unconcerned with employees’ lives other than making sure they come to work. They keep employees in the dark about what is happening when decisions need to be made. And they often say the care about safety but will rush employees to increase production.
So no, I don’t believe they should be allowed to continue operating as a monopoly here. I think the only reason they decided to get the power restoration efforts going as quick as they did is because they’re hoping everyone will forget about how bad the grid is designed and being maintained. They don’t want anyone paying too close attention to what caused all this in the first place.