We need a substation and Entergy has backed out. Stimulus money is coming and it has an infrastructure aim. Both the mayor and city council talked about the stimulus money and the city council has just approved the money. The mayor has yet to be heard from.

The New Orleans City Council on Thursday voted to commit $30 million in federal stimulus money to build a new substation for drainage pumps, which city officials broadly agree is one of the city’s top infrastructure priorities despite disagreement on the best way to pay for it. The unanimous votes on City Council member Joe Giarrusso’s package of measures defied the wishes of officials in Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration, who have said they want to consider other funding sources for the project.  Cantrell ultimately will decide how the substation for the Sewerage & Water Board gets paid for, as the funding designated by the council remains under her purview to pay out. She can also veto the council’s ordinances, though more than enough members have voted for them to override a potential veto. An administration spokesperson declined to comment on the mayor’s plans.

Entergy is still in the mix, and there will be discussions with them in the near future.

Giarrusso said he plans to meet with the administration, Entergy New Orleans and the S&WB next Wednesday to figure out the next steps. “If there are paper barriers to jump starting construction, how do we break through this?” Giarrusso said. “Everybody has said we need the substation.” The need for additional substation funding comes after Entergy New Orleans stepped back from its agreement to finance $34 million of the $74 million cost. Cantrell joined council members and utility executives last June in celebrating the deal for the substation, which would supply modern power to old S&WB pumps. Under the terms of the deal, the city and state would have kicked in $20 million apiece for additional equipment and the S&WB would have paid Entergy back over several years. The deal called for Entergy to serve as project manager on the construction project, and to own and operate the facility once completed. Entergy said last month it could not afford to hold up its financing commitment, but would follow through with its other responsibilities if there is another way to pay for construction.

The stimulus money came at a good time as Ida showed the weakness in our energy system.

The stimulus bill passed last year with $350 billion for local governments to spend on a range of priorities. The Biden administration allocated $387.5 million to New Orleans, the first half of which was delivered last year. The second half is expected to arrive in May. Administration officials have said they are not opposed to using the second half for the substation, but have been hesitant to commit. Cantrell wants to reserve the first half for pandemic-related budget shortfalls, which she says could continue through 2025. She wants to dip into the second half for recruitment and retention bonuses, additional human resources staff and other personnel moves aimed at shoring up a city workforce that has seen an 11% reduction since the pandemic. Giarrusso’s measures create a special fund for the substation and appropriate $30 million in stimulus money to the new fund. The measures don’t specify which portion of the stimulus money that the fund would draw from. Giarrusso said some of the money could from the stimulus money currently on hand, and the rest from the second half. When the deal was initially announced, plans called for the substation to be ready in time for 2023 hurricane season, a prospect that officials now say is unlikely. At present, the only way to power the old S&WB pumps is with the utility’s antiquated in-house generators, which frequently break down. 

Of course this begs the issue of why do we still use the old S&WB pumps?

City council commits to substation
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