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New Orleans officials break ground on important substation for S&WB drainage pumps

Entergy New Orleans and city officials on Monday broke ground on a special substation for the Sewerage and Water Board, believed to be key to ensuring reliable power for drainage pumps that have failed during heavy rainstorms in recent years.

The substation, located on S&WB’s industrial campus along South Claiborne Avenue, is expected to be completed in two years. It’s part of a larger $300 million series of upgrades collectively known as the “West Power Complex.”

The New Orleans Sewer and Water Authority on South Claiborne Avenue. The critical Entergy substation that will support the power supply to the SW&B pumps will be built near this site. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on Monday, December 5, 2022. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

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When completed, the substation will supply modern power from Entergy’s grid to dozens of pumps across the city, which are currently operating at a declining power frequency. This means that S&WB can stop generating its own energy using old, unreliable steam turbines.

“The West Power Complex demonstrates the city’s strong commitment to addressing the damaging effects of the ongoing climate crisis, building our resilience, and most importantly, protecting our people,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a press release after the groundbreaking.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell, center, stands in front of Deanna Rodriguez, left, President and CEO of Entergy New Orleans, and Ghassan Korban, right, CEO of SW&B New Orleans as they discuss the new $300 million West Power Complex that will be built built at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans station at South Claiborne Avenue. The site will include the critical Entergy substation that will help power the SW&B pumps. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on Monday, December 5, 2022. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

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Entergy is overseeing construction of the $34 million substation, the cost of which will be borne by the Cantrell administration and S&WB taxpayers. Entergy agreed last year to pay for the construction costs, with repayment by S&WB. But after Hurricane Ida, Entergy backed out of her commitment, saying she could no longer afford the arrangement.

The Cantrell administration is also investing more than $20 million in special frequency converters that “dumb down” modern substation power to make it compatible with the pumps.

It is planned to gradually upgrade the pumps to the Entergy frequency over the lifetime of the frequency converters.

A water main adjacent to the construction of the $300 million West Power Complex at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans station on South Claiborne Avenue. The site will include the critical Entergy substation that will help power the SW&B pumps. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on Monday, December 5, 2022. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

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While the West Power Complex is designed primarily to support the substation, numerous components have increased costs, approximately 75% of which are funded, according to official figures.

For example, a utility rack that carries power from the substation to the S&WB command center costs about as much as the substation itself.

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