NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – The heat is on and many are finding higher energy bills as the temperatures outside continue to climb.
“It is smoldering,” said Gabrielle Hillman, a resident of Metairie. “We’ve been trying to be better about using our eco-mode on our A/C, but then you come home and it’s 80 degrees in the house.”
As Louisiana nears record highs and feels-like temperatures in the triple digits, there’s only so much one can do to stay cool– crank the A/C and pay the price.
Nick Caillouet says he’s not surprised about seeing higher bills during the always unforgiving southern summer.
“I’m running the A/C at 70 degrees no matter what because I’m out in it all day. I need to come home to cool air,” he said.
Higher outside temperatures require more energy to cool your home, which means bills increase when you’re looking to cool down from the summer swelter.
“During this time of year, that A/C unit is basically costing you over half of your electricity bill,” said Sandra Diggs-Miller, Vice Pres. of Customer Service for Entergy New Orleans. “That’s before you get to the appliances, and the lights, and all the other things attached to it.”
She said increased fuel costs have led to higher bills.
“The cost of natural gas has increased exponentially since February,” said Diggs-Miller. “I want customers to know that the fuel charge fluctuates based on personal usage.”
She recommends people set their thermostat at 78 degrees to save money.
“Any degree below (78) can actually raise your bill as much as 3%. So if you’re cranking your A/C down to 72 degrees, you’ve already increased your electricity bill by 18% that month,” Diggs-Miller said.
While some may challenge that recommendation, she said cooling costs can account for as much as 55% of your monthly energy usage.
The hot summer months add stress to the local energy grid. Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane University Energy Institute, said the grid in Louisiana is strong enough to handle the surge.
“Generally we don’t lose power from heat. I mean we’re used to it you know. That’s not our normal situation. Where we lose power catastrophically is with hurricanes,” he said.
This summer, other areas of the country are preparing for rolling blackouts caused by the heat and the stress it places on the nation’s power grid, a result of fossil fuel plants shutting down and a stronger push for alternative energy sources.
Smith says Louisiana is in a much better position than other states thanks to heavy industrial power consumption.
“We have a fairly well-developed grid with one glaring exception… which is Texas doesn’t have a whole lot of interconnects with anybody, including Louisiana. But we have good interconnects with Mississippi, Arkansas, even Oklahoma,” he said, which allows the state to purchase power from neighboring states in emergency situations as long as the connections work.
“It’s a question of how much stress are you going to put the system under? You can never guarantee that nothing is going to happen,” said Smith. “But what you want to do is get rid of the obvious things that have a tendency to happen more frequently, like wires going down or the loss of a fuel supply that’s predictable.”
Smith says the Louisiana power grid is “in pretty good shape” following Hurricane Ida nearly 10 months ago.
“The biggest long-term weakness is that we don’t generate much of our power locally. It’s all being brought in from outside Orleans Parish,” he said.
As other states shift to greener forms of energy, Smith said those states will still need a backup for emergencies– like drought, wildfires, and even hurricanes.
“When you’re dealing with wind and solar, and hydro to a certain extent, you’re dealing with intermittent sources, and they have a habit of going down when you least need them to go down,” he said, adding they can be unreliable if conditions aren’t favorable. “But you have to simultaneously install backup power supply and that’s one of the problems [states like] California has had.”
Fortunately, Louisiana has two main sources of power, he says, nuclear and natural gas.
Wind and solar energy fields oftentimes require thousands of acres of land, something that Louisiana can’t afford. Because of this, Smith predicts nuclear energy will dominate the “green” space of energy consumption.
“Nuclear energy has a lot of potential to supply clean power and the ability to be reliable with a smaller footprint per kilowatt-hour than anything else we’re currently doing,” said Smith.
All in all, Smith says Louisiana is in a good position and likely won’t see rolling blackouts this summer like other states.
“I think Louisiana is probably going to complain a lot because that’s what we do, but the fact of the matter is if you spent time analyzing other parts of the country, they have far far worse problems with power supply than we do.”
Diggs-Miller says the work continues to harden the grid in Southeast Louisiana and believes Entergy is ready for the hurricane season. She said the energy giant has a hurricane response plan and is working closely with the City of New Orleans and the Sewerage and Water Board.
Entergy offers custom payment plans and bill payment assistance to those who qualify. Entergy also offers free home assessments to help homeowners and renters determine how to keep their homes cool and save money.
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