Utility moves closer to turning over system to regional operator

NEW ORLEANS — Entergy Corp. has moved a step closer to turning over control of its power transmission system to a regional grid operator. It’s a plan the New Orleans utility hopes to have in place by the end of 2013.

Entergy, which operates electric utilities in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas, wants to join the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, an Indiana-based group that spans more than a dozen states and one Canadian province.

Utility regulators in Arkansas and Texas both approved the plan last week. The Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates Entergy Louisiana, signed off on it in May, and regulators in Mississippi are expected to follow suit in mid-November.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reports the timing will likely leave the New Orleans City Council, which regulates Entergy New Orleans, as having the final say.

In New Orleans, the move is projected to save customers up to $46 million over a decade, utility officials say, because turning over the grid would allow power to be dispatched more efficiently. Entergy officials have pegged the overall savings for customers across its system at about $1.4 billion in that span.

Gary Huntley, vice president of regulatory affairs for Entergy New Orleans, said the utility has been negotiating with the city on the plan. “There are some issues that we’re continuing to work out,” Huntley said, without getting into specifics.

Huntley is optimistic a decision could come “hopefully within the next couple weeks.”

The issue of signing off on a grid operator has been a contentious and confusing one for local and state regulators. Under the arrangement, member utilities would gain access to Entergy’s expansive transmission grid, and vice versa, and together the group would plan and allocate the costs of making transmission improvements across a shared region.

Entergy has 15,700 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, covering 114,000-square-miles in six regulatory jurisdictions, from swampy delta regions to the mountainous Ozarks. Entergy has spent about $1 billion on transmission upgrades and expansions over the past five years.

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