In the wake of Entergy astroturfing the citizens of New Orleans, it not only continues to attempt an end-around to influence the New Orleans City Council by pressuring non-profits that receive Entergy support, but it has come out swinging against a better alternative to its $210 million power plant. The alternative, a virtual power plant, has laid bare Entergy’s desperation to get their 128 MW power plant shoehorned through the regulatory process. Here’s the upshot: if a massive, multi-billion dollar utility is publicly challenging an innovative startup then you need to ask why . . . the answer is because New Orleans has the opportunity to buy the value of a $210 million power plant for less than $10 million.
Here we’ll address Entergy’s public comments in their attempt to cast doubt on the value and application of Voltus’s peaking power plant for New Orleans:
Entergy disputes the Voltus model. The hypocrisy of this statement is laughable, as Entergy already has a virtual power plant of its own in New Orleans. It pays large industrial loads more than $63,000/MW-year for agreeing to be interrupted. So, which is it, Entergy, do you believe these resources are valuable or not (if not, why aren’t you arguing against your own interruptible rate?). The dirty secret here is that Entergy only offers it to the very largest industrial loads which prevents small and medium sized organizations from benefiting.
Neal Kirby, Entergy spokesperson, argues that the Voltus peaking power plant isn’t a power plant “because a power plant does not exist.” Neal, you’re clearly not familiar with what we do nor the technical details of a virtual power plant, thousands of which have been developed and proven around the world (see Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s virtual power plant which they tout as a “clean and innovative alternative” to a decades old fossil-fuel plant in Oakland). Entergy’s response is instead like that of a taxi driver not being familiar with why Lyft is a far superior product, while arguing against Lyft in hopes of protecting an antiquated way of operating. Further, a virtual power plant is not just load curtailment; it’s an aggregation of hundreds, even thousands, of behind-the-meter distributed energy resources, including onsite generation. There are hundreds of these small, on-site generators in New Orleans that could be part of the virtual power plant, along with energy storage, energy efficiency, and load curtailment (the three of which are commonly known as DERs or distributed energy resources). This may be a helpful analogy: Entergy wants to build a mainframe whose power is used very rarely (the 128 MW peaking power plant at a cost of $210 million) while Voltus is building a much more efficient series of laptops that distribute the computing power, efficiency, and value to all users (the 125 MW virtual power plant that costs ratepayers nothing to build and delivers cash directly into the pockets of the distributed users who participate).
Neal also says “even if the company’s plan is achievable, it would not replace the need for a local power source to maintain stability and prevent widespread outages.” Odd, considering that’s exactly what it would do. Voltus has reached out to Entergy on multiple occasions to engage, educate, and work together to bring a diverse mix of resources to market. Entergy has never replied to us, and as demonstrated by Neal’s comments, remains willfully ignorant on the topic. Let us educate you: the Voltus virtual power plant will deliver 125 MWs within the city limits of New Orleans. It’s not only local, it’s more local than Entergy’s power plant, and is woven into the fabric of New Orleans’ demand for electricity exactly where the demand exists.
“Kirby, in his statement on behalf of Entergy, said the utility questions whether large facilities, such as hospitals and big retailers, would be suitable customers for Voltus given their power needs.” In fact, these very customers are participating in virtual power plants around the country and have been for decades. This is why Voltus can so quickly build our 125 MW power plant while it will take years for Entergy to build theirs. These facilities can be enabled to participate using their existing building management systems coupled with Voltus technology in less than 60 minutes.
Neal mentions Entergy’s “black start” capabilities. Smoke and mirrors. Few people fully understand this term. The Voltus virtual power plant also has black start capabilities. We’ll let Neal explain what black start is, while hoping nobody’s eyes glaze over. Furthermore, we’ll hope he touches on the fact that black start is a) standard operating procedure for any modern power plant (it’s as if he said, “Our car is amazing. It has tires!”) and b) largely irrelevant when distribution infrastructure is compromised in an emergency.
Finally, Neal touts the benefits of the Entergy power plant being able to restore power after a hurricane. Entergy can only deliver power from a central power plant if its distribution infrastructure (wires, transformers, etc.) are available after a hurricane. Entergy has had a hard enough time keeping cats out of distribution facilities. Furthermore, Entergy seems entirely indifferent to following through on its 100 MW solar commitment to the city while its maintenance records are atrocious. In 2016 alone Entergy had 2,599 outages, 99% of which were associated with distribution system issues downstream of power production.
New Orleans has an amazing opportunity to benefit from a new power plant in the next 12 months. And it has the opportunity to save each ratepayer $500 by choosing the benefits of a virtual power plant. We hope the New Orleans City Council (local representative contact information here) will support this win-win solution and make ratepayers aware of its benefits.
Dana Guernsey – VP of Product and Energy Markets