New Orleans and the surrounding areas are still without power two days after Hurricane Ida. Floodwalls, floodgates and pumps were able to prevent massive flooding. However, Ida cut all eight transmission lines that run through the city, putting it and its surrounding parishes in darkness. It will take a lot of effort to get the lights on again.
As a result, Monday's storm left about one million Louisiana customers without power and 50,000 in South Mississippi. On Tuesday, regional electric utility Entergy stated that it had restored power to thousands of customers. 840,000 customers were still without power in Louisiana and 25,000 in Mississippi.
Entergy and the other local utilities say they will need to spend days doing preliminary scouting, debris removal and cleanup as they try to triage the situation. On Monday evening, Governor John Bel Edwards stated that electricity is virtually non-existent in Southeast Louisiana. "I cannot tell you when power will be restored, nor can I tell you when all the debris will be cleaned up and repairs made. On Tuesday, Edwards stated that no estimate was given by his office for when power will return.
Utility companies warn that it may take up to three weeks to restore power to all customers. This estimate is based on past recovery times such as Hurricane Gustav in 2008 or Isaac in 2012. It took approximately 40 days to restore power across the region after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Utility companies have developed a recovery plan for storms such as Ida because of the repeated catastrophes. However, the specific conditions of each hurricane will determine which order these plays should be run. For example, what areas are still accessible for days because of flooding and what parts need extensive repairs.
The massive effort of more than 20,000 utility workers is required to assess the damage. This force includes both local employees as well as reinforcements from other utilities across the country. Crews are responsible for inspecting equipment at every point of local power lines. They also have to assess substations, power plants and voltage transformer stations for damage and failures. Drones and helicopters are used by crews for aerial surveys. While they wait for floodwaters recede, the crews take boats to assess the extent of damage that remains underwater.
The condition of the transmission system is one of the most critical components in Ida recovery. The backbone of a power network is the main transmission line. They carry high-voltage electricity over long distances and connect power stations like power plants to substations that supply local power lines to customers.
New Orleans is home to eight high-voltage transmission lines. Entergy stated Tuesday that it was still trying to understand why each one had failed. The company is also working to repair its power stations. Ideally, they are ready to produce electricity by the time that the transmission system can deliver it. Entergy also says that it is exploring the possibility to use local generators to directly feed power lines without a fully functional transmission system.
There is no right or wrong way to handle every storm.
A tall transmission tower also known as a "lattice tower" fell just outside New Orleans on Sunday night due to strong winds. It had stood tall during Hurricane Katrina and was a landmark. However, it fell to the Mississippi River with its conductor and power lines. Crews will have to rebuild the tower and replace its equipment. This is a lengthy construction project. The condition of other transmission lines could make the project a chokepoint or just one of many.
Entergy stated Tuesday that Hurricane Ida's damage has reduced much of the redundancy in the transmission system. This makes it more difficult to deliver power to customers.