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Utility companies appear before oversight board; Entergy vows to improve

BATON ROUGE - Utility companies were in the hot seat Wednesday morning at the Louisiana Public Service Commission meeting and had to explain what went wrong during the ice storm last week.

Entergy said it had challenges and admitted it did not meet customer expectations or its own.

During the ice storm and subsequent freezes, thousands were left in the dark and cold. Chairman Dr. Craig Greene read customer experiences to Entergy CEO Phillip May.

"These people are frustrated, they're scared, and they don't have anybody to turn to so they turn to us, and we are their voice," Greene said.

Power companies were faced with a difficult task during the outages, getting people back online quickly, all while navigating freezing weather conditions and a pandemic. Entergy says it had 131,000 customers in the dark last week. As power crews scrambled to get their heat turned back on, customers struggled to get updates or report an outage.

"We feel the frustration and the angst that was put upon customers because of the communications issues we had," May said. "We did not meet customers' expectations on how we communicated and the information we provided during the storm. We did not meet our own expectations on the information and the communications that we had during this storm."

May told the PSC that there were issues with Entergy's call centers. The same weather affecting Entergy customers affected Entergy's call centers. As a result, about 25 percent of the call center's scheduled workforce was unable to report to work for various connectability and transportation issues. Entergy also reports that one of its providers had fiber connection issues that resulted in multiple disconnected phone calls.

Customers told 2 On Your Side that they had called Entergy to report an outage only to be told by Entergy that they didn't have an outage. Entergy said Wednesday that its outage map was manually being updated once an hour, which means some people might have been viewing old information. Following Hurricane Zeta, the company implemented new systems to be ready for the upcoming season. When that system is completed, Entergy says the accuracy will improve.

Last Tuesday, Entergy was forced to implement rolling blackouts to prevent a collapse of the grid. Those blackouts left customers in the dark for hours. Entergy says it's still gathering details regarding the number of customers affected and will be able to provide that when available.

"When MISO calls for us to shed load across our system, we have 30 minutes to implement that call," May said. "We start with our non-critical load, however, when the load shed is larger than can be accomplished in 30 minutes - such as it was Tuesday morning in the extreme demand of the southwest portion of Louisiana - our only option is to de-energize entire substations in order to meet that 30-minute window."

As it relates to mandatory outages, Entergy says it makes every effort to provide as much notice as possible, but in this case there wasn't much time to warn people.

"I want to personally apologize for any inconvenience," May said. "I want you to know that we're working to improve our efficiency in executing this notice process and the means in which we execute that notice."

Entergy had a storm team of more than 4,000 who helped to restore power throughout the week. That team includes linemen and tree trimmers.

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