(In Sept. 3 story, changes word “subdivisions” to “substations” in paragraph 7)
HOUSTON, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Entergy Corp (ETR.N) officials were able to restore two critical transmission lines overnight, allowing the state’s largest utility to reconnect New Orleans to the statewide power grid, officials said on Wednesday.
The return of two 230-kilovolt lines knocked out by Hurricane Gustav will allow more power to be restored to homes and businesses in New Orleans and communities along the Mississippi River, full recovery of the state’s largest utility grid is weeks away, Randy Helmick, Entergy’s vice president of transmission and official “storm boss” told reporters on a call Wednesday.
Aerial inspection of Entergy’s power lines showed extensive damage in the Baton Rouge area, with many steel towers down, Helmick said.
“Those lines will take weeks to restore,” Helmick said. Such damage in the Baton Rouge area did not occur after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Helmick said. Gustav ranks as the second worst storm in Entergy history behind Katrina.
Entergy also restored another major line, but at least 10 of 14 of Entergy’s transmission paths to move power from generation north of Baton Rouge to New Orleans remained shut on Wednesday, officials said.
Helmick said Entergy’s priority will be to repair transmission lines needed to allow restoration of customer’s power first, followed by lines that add redundancy to the grid network to avoid future blackouts.
More than 180 transmission lines and 138 substations remain out of service.
The return of two shut nuclear reactors will depend on power demand and the ability of the grid to accept additional power, said Entergy spokesman Mike Burns. Inspections by federal nuclear and emergency regulators at Entergy’s River Bend and Waterford nuclear sites were completed Wednesday and restart schedules were being developed.
With the return of two 230-kv lines, many more New Orleans area residents should have electricity in a matter of days, but work to restore everyone’s power could take up to three-to-four weeks — in other storm-damaged areas near Baton Rouge and in rural areas.
Power had been restored to more than 75,000 customers late Wednesday, leaving Entergy with 774,000 customers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas that lacked power. That is down from the storm peak of 850,000. New outages were reported as remnants of the storm moved inland.
The utility said it is working with industrial customers, including more than a dozen refiners, to restore power, but warned that, because refineries consume a large amount of power, full operations may be limited.
“It’s a balancing act,” said Helmick. “With large customers, you have to be careful when you bring them on, unlike subdivisions” which can be added in smaller increments.
Among the 9,000 utility workers from 25 states arriving to help Entergy make repairs are 30 specialists in high-voltage systems from Houston-based CenterPoint Energy. (Reporting by Eileen O’Grady; editing by Jim Marshall, Leslie Gevirtz)