After Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana spent billions improving its levee system. After Hurricane Ida, it’s clear the power grid needs help too.

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A little over two weeks since Ida made landfall, and nearly 100,000 people are still without power. While it’s progress from the initial 1.1 million left in the dark at the height of summer heat, it also serves as a major wake-up call.

“We need to improve our infrastructure. We can’t continue to build things back to the current standard. If the current standard were enough, we wouldn’t have lost them, right,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Although the immediate priority is getting the lights back on, state and local officials are focused on plans to keep such widespread outages from happening again.

“It is hard for me to imagine that we will ever have an electrical infrastructure or other types of infrastructure as well that can withstand a storm of this severity without any disruptions. But we know we can minimize those disruptions,” said Edwards.

It’s easier said than done when faced with destruction like a mangled high voltage transformer and damage to all eight of the lines bringing electricity into the city of New Orleans. One option being considered going forward is microgrids. 

“Where you don’t have such a massive grid…you know one failure leads to the failure of the entire electrical system, can we put power generation in a smaller part of our city so we don’t lose power to the entire city if we have 15 little microgrids around,” said Ramsey Green, the Deputy CAO of Infrastructure for the City of New Orleans. 

Each could operate on its own, able to disconnect from the main grid in case of a problem or ahead of a major event, like a hurricane.

“Within our city government, we have a pilot program using some federal funds to really explore what that means,” Green told CBN News.

Another potential solution: burying power lines.

“Putting our distribution lines, the electrical lines that go from home to home to a power generation source, those lines are above ground largely in the city of New Orleans right now. I find that quite galling frankly as I live through these events,” Green said.

Some parts of the New Orleans business district already have underground lines and those neighborhoods saw power restored more quickly.

“The problem with doing that throughout our entire city is it’s incredibly expensive. Our estimate on doing under-grounding of electrical distribution lines is about $3 million per mile…what I would say is if the money’s there, we’re always going to figure out a way to operate and do it as efficiently as possible,” said Green.

The sheer cost of modernizing the power grid is why many utilities have yet to make needed improvements. That could change, however, as President Biden’s infrastructure package includes $73 billion toward grid updates. Still, that figure falls woefully short of the $5 trillion some experts estimate it would take to modernize the country’s overall electrical system.
 

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