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POWER — Entergy Texas keeps Southeast Texas running; $937M plant nears operation

(Editor’s note: This is one of a series of stories published this weekend in Part 2 “POWER” of The Port Arthur News’ 2020 Vision For Success series. The series appears each weekend in April and can also be read at panews.com.) 

Many things provide the power Southeast Texas needs to move and work in subtle and figurative ways. Entergy Texas is the source of literal power, and it does more than simply keep the lights on.

The infrastructure Entergy Texas builds to help supply energy to Southeast Texas requires careful planning, including forethought and forward thinking, which isn’t lost on Stuart Barrett, vice president of customer service.

“When people flip the switch, they don’t really think about what’s behind that, but we have analysts modeling 20, 15, 10, 5 years out on projections on new growth, on populations of movement, where people are coming, and if we’ve got large customers that are potentially going to locate in the area,” Barrett said. “We have to account for that as well.”

As a result, Entergy has been making investments in increased power production, better transmission and consumer-level technology.

The promise of these investments is more reliable, more cost effective energy infrastructure that attracts and retains businesses.

Entergy officials break ground on the site of the Montgomery County Power Station in 2019.

New power plant

Entergy Texas is investing $937 million in the construction of a new, 993-megawatt power plant in Montgomery County, something Barrett said the company hasn’t done in a while.

“We haven’t built a power plant in Texas in many years,” Barrett said. “Our infrastructure is aging, our load is growing and we had on top of that transmission issues on voltage support, which helped us define the next power plant we would build in Montgomery County. We need that plant because we continue to grow. Our aging infrastructure needs to be updated.”

The new plant will provide energy to the entire southeastern region in Texas, and it is expected to do so at a lower cost thanks to its fuel — natural gas.

Steve Pilgrim, director of business and economic development, said natural gas plants have a leg up on coal or nuclear plants by having the potential to scale power outputs based on demand.

While other plants may produce power at an “all-out” rate, the Montgomery County Power Station will increase output for peak demand times and lower output for lower demand.

“You can think about natural gas as a dial,” Barrett said. “The operator can ramp up and match that load requirement at its peak, and then ramp back down.”

Pilgrim adds the plant would be able to produce the same power for less fuel.

“The common denominator we have with a lot of our large industrials, and in fact all of our stakeholders, is we’re doing our part to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “I’m delighted to tell our industrials that we’re continuing to make investments and serving their capacity and reliability needs, but we’re also doing it in a fashion that will help them achieve their sustainability goals along with us.”

The plant is expected to become commercially operational by May of 2021. While the plant will have an expected lifespan of approximately 30 years, Barrett said Entergy expects it to start paying for itself within 10-12 years.

Transmission and meters

Work in the greater Port Arthur area has included improvements to transmission infrastructure to accommodate expanding industry, as well as technological improvements for customers.

Entergy officials cut a ceremonial wire at the start of the Port Arthur Reliability Transmission Project in 2018.

The $70 million Port Arthur Reliability Project has been in the works for several years, producing 18 miles of transmission lines along with two substations, Legend in Port Arthur and Garden in Nederland.

“Down there in that part of the country there’s a lot of refineries and lots of other industries that support the movement and refinement of oil and gas products,” Pilgrim said. “When we look at our long term projection, as our area continues to grow, we need more capacity in that part of the country. As other individual projects come online, it’s going to contribute to serving those specific projects but also yield us increasing levels of redundancy and reliability for customers that are already there.”

Residential customers may have already seen new advanced meters installed throughout Port Arthur and Mid-County. Since the meters provide more up-to-date information on power consumption, customers have greater control on their usage, allowing them to tailor needs towards lowering their bills. The meters also provide Entergy the ability to manage certain services like activations remotely, eliminating the need to send trucks.

Ron Fletcher, customer service manager for the Port Arthur area, said while it’s still too early to tell, Entergy and its customers are watching the numbers and are expecting to see savings.

“We’ve done a really good job of deploying our advanced meters in the area,” he said. “We’re going to get some really exciting results from that. The fact is customers will have more control over their bills and usage than ever before, which really makes us excited.”

Impact

The bottom line, according to Pilgrim, is to keep down costs for customers and reliably meet energy demands in the expanding industry base of Southeast Texas.

“I would say at the end of the day the biggest challenge is making sure we’ve got the capacity to serve them, making sure that we are delivering a level of reliability that they need to be successful and keeping our prices and our costs low so that they can remain competitive,” Pilgrim said.

Pilgrim’s job is to expand the industrial client base and retain existing clients. He looks out for ways to help businesses define and meet their needs when it comes to energy.

Residential customers are numerous but consume much smaller amounts of electricity on an individual level. Industrial customers, on the other hand, while fewer, are comparable to the volume of residential customers by the amount of power they consume.

“When I look at our requirements for our heavy industrial customers, I look in terms of demand,” Pilgrim said. “We talk in terms of megawatts. You’re looking at the amount of instantaneous power that a heavy industrial customer is going to need to run major pumps or compressors, and these things can be tens of thousands of horsepower starting and stopping at one time. While we’re talking about kilowatts in terms of our typical homes, we may be talking in hundreds of megawatts for our major industrial customers around Port Arthur.”

Investments in infrastructure, such as the new plant and transmission lines, provide the same benefits to industries as they do to residents. More industrial customers, likewise, means a bigger customer pool to spread the costs of those projects.

More customers and more reliable and efficient infrastructure translates into savings for everyone.

“We have a favorable market, raw materials, favorable business climate and expanding infrastructure,” Barrett said. “That helps us when we attract business to the area, adding those industrial facilities to our residential customers, it can keep our utility costs pretty low.”

The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone, but Entergy is working and innovating.

“Being in the area we are in, storms are routine for us,” Barrett said. “We’re pretty good at that. I think we’re prepared to handle the pandemic. We keep our employees safe and we’re continuing to provide the service our customers expect.”