US Department of Energy chief discusses efforts to build energy resilience in New Orleans

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm talks about New Orleans choosing to participate in the Communities Local Energy Action Program.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Power outages are occurring in parts of the New Orleans area even without inclement weather and now New Orleans is receiving federal government assistance designed to help keep lights on in communities even after bad weather and also to develop clean energy.

FOX 8 spoke one-on-one with US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm about the DOE’s new Communities Local Energy Action Program, also known as Communities LEAP for short.

“Clearly, New Orleans and Louisiana as a whole have been hit by hurricanes time and time again, which means the grid is shutting down and often those who are disproportionately affected are underserved communities” , said Granholm.

New Orleans is one of 22 communities chosen nationwide to receive direct support from the Department of Energy to create action plans that will increase energy resilience and energy loads and reduce local air pollution. .

“And so what New Orleans said is we need to build resilience during a storm for communities when we know the grid is going to be impacted. We need to create community hubs, in resilient neighborhoods, so residents know where to go to be safe, to be connected, to have power during a storm and so that’s what it’s all about,” Granholm said.

Jonathan Rhodes is director of the mayor’s office of public services. He was asked if Granholm’s ideas were feasible for the city.

“Yeah, totally doable and we saw it working even recently during Hurricane Ida when the city turned our NORTH facilities into cooling centers and it was done with backup power,” Rhodes said.

Granholm said, “We don’t shoot money in New Orleans, what we do is shoot technical assistance and access to money, if a good plan is written, that we want to write in conjunction with New Orleans, so it’s really a way for communities to access resources from the federal government.

Residents are fed up with sporadic power outages.

Jolie Bensen has a gym.

“Every other month I mean it’s pretty, I don’t put the candles away, my kids know the routine,” she said.

Talia Cieslinski works in a restaurant.

“The power is out here all the time and customers are upset, and we have to close the store. It would be really, really helpful if that didn’t happen,” Ceislinski said.

Rhodes said: “So what you can do is build a resilient power system using alternative energy sources, for example, solar power and backup batteries that may be in place and be powered when the main power grid goes out, so with solar power on your buildings and batteries storing energy we can power buildings even when the grid is down and serve as community resources and community centers .

Being part of Communities LEAP positions the city to secure other federal dollars, including the $1 trillion infrastructure act.

“The City of New Orleans, with this partnership with the Department of Energy, is really going to be able to build a strategic plan that’s going to put us in a very competitive position for additional infrastructure investments,” said Rhodes.

Power grid problems are not limited to New Orleans but exist across the country.

Granholm was asked about the challenge of solving problems.

“Yes, it’s very complicated. We have a network that was built in the 1950s on wooden poles, with wires overhead and we are dealing with all these increasingly violent weather events,” said she declared.

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