U.S. News

Some 500,000 Entergy customers still lack power

NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than 500,000 customers in Entergy Corp’s service area in Louisiana and Arkansas remained without power on Friday, four days after Hurricane Gustav caused massive damage to the company’s power grid.

Gustav cut power to more than 1.8 million homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast and shut more than a dozen oil refineries and many oil and natural gas pipelines - the second worst outage in New Orleans-based Entergy’s 95-year history.

Entergy has been able to restore power to nearly 454,000 customers, or 47 percent of the total that lost power. including 347,000 in Louisiana by mid-day Friday.

All power was restored in 28 parishes in Louisiana, Renae Conley, an Entergy official told reporters.

Entergy has declined to estimate the cost of rebuilding its system, after calling damage “extremely severe” and estimating that full restoration of power was weeks away.

Repairing the swathe of twisted power lines left by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 cost the investor-owned utility about $1 billion.

Entergy and other utilities still face a “herculean” task of rebuilding storm-damaged lines, said the Edison Electric Institute, which lobbies for utilities like Entergy and Cleco.

Gustav brought down a network of poles, towers and wires, which must be rebuilt while working around storm debris, said Tom Kuhn, president of the group.

Crews closed a section of Interstate 10 on Friday near Baton Rouge to restore a damaged 230-kilovolt line to allow more power to flow in an area where transmission damage was most severe, officials said.

Without power Ele Reynolds (L) and Alex Reyes (R) sit on a empty Orleans Ave. as they escape the heat inside the home they used for shelter during Hurricane Gustave in New Orleans, Louisiana, September 2, 2008. REUTERS/Sean Gardner

Overall, two more critical lines linking Baton Rouge and New Orleans have been restored, said Randy Helmick, Entergy’s vice president of transmission and official “storm boss.”

Of the 216 transmission lines knocked out by the storm, 113 have been restored to service. Of the 270 substations knocked out, 171 have been restored, officials said.

Most of the remaining lines are below 230-kv level, said Helmick.

Helmick called initial reports of Gustav’s damage to the bulk-power network from limited ground patrols immediately after the storm “alarming.” But once workers performed aerial inspections, he was relieved to see much of the damage was moderate or created by debris hitting power lines, he said.

“That allowed us to get lines back faster,” Helmick said.

While Gustav was not as powerful as Hurricane Katrina which devastated the state in 2005, Gustav was felt across a much greater area, said Greg Rigamer, chief executive of GCR & Associates, a New Orleans consulting firm.

“Katrina was more severe, but Gustav was more expansive,” Rigamer said.

A few heavily damaged areas, near Baton Rouge and along the Louisiana coast, will take longer.

Entergy planned to restart the Waterford nuclear reactor on Saturday. The return of the River Bend nuclear power station will take a week, the utility said.

At the peak, about 850,000 Entergy customers were without power primarily in Louisiana and Mississippi. Another 93,000 customers lost power in Arkansas on Wednesday.

Hurricane Gustav caused the second largest number of outages in the company’s 95-year history behind only Katrina, which left 1.1 million out in 2005.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino and Eileen O’Grady; Editing by Chris Baltimore and David Gregorio