Entergy Corp., the New Or-leans-based utility hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, restored some power to the stricken city Sept. 4–nearly a week after the storm passed. Other coastal power providers also were coming back from their darkest hours, but rural systems still are facing hard times ahead.

Work crews entered the city under National Guard escort and energized one substation, serving parts of the central business district and the French Quarter.

The devastation along the coast was so complete that the utilities in the area will have to build new systems, not just repair the old ones. Entergy and Mississippi Power, another hard-hit utility, say it could take more than a month to rebuild their systems. Every one of Mississippi Power’s customers lost power, along with nearly 100% of Entergy’s customers in the region. More than 10,000 Entergy workers from as far away as Massachusetts are repairing the 124 damaged transmission lines and 150 transmission substations.

Entergy could have the backbone of its transmission system back in service by Sept. 9, says John Zamanek, vice president of transmission. But 500 transformers and 50 substations in New Orleans still are under water.

Entergy’s 1,091-MW Waterford-3 nuclear powerplant, which was shut down before the storm, does not appear damaged, but two oil and gas plants were reportedly flooded.

A 500-kV transmission line suffered major damage and Entergy does not expect it to be repaired until Sept. 30.

An Entergy spokesman says the firm is financially able to handle the disaster. Others are not so sure. "This storm was Entergy’s Sept. 11," an industry executive says. Analysts are taking a more measured, wait-and-see attitude. "We won’t see clarity for a while, maybe two to three months," says a Standard and Poor’s analyst.

Mississippi Power must rebuild or repair 70% of its 8,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines. About 700 miles of lines are down, more than 800 transformers are destroyed and at least 4,500 poles must be replaced or repaired. The 1,051-MW Jack Watson plant in Gulfport flooded and was shut down.

Smaller utilities and rural electric association members were devastated as well. At least 450,000 Mississippi co-op customers were left without power after Katrina came through. "There is total outage on the coast," says Rod Stewart, senior vice president of the Electric Power Association of Mississippi. Bay St. Louis has 30,000 poles down. South Mississippi Electric Power Association lost production from two of its powerplants, Stewart says. The extent of the damage to the transmission system there has not been determined. About 6,200 municipal customers in the state lost power.

By Sept. 2, officials of utilities most affected by Katrina began to understand the logistical problems of dealing with a widespread catastrophe. Repairs are hampered by shortages of gasoline and diesel fuel in the region. "If the trucks can’t get fuel, we can’t get the power back on," says Fred Braswell, president and CEO of the Alabama Rural Electric Association. The Tennessee Valley Authority sent 7,000 gallons each of gasoline and diesel to a staging area in Mississippi for utilities to use.

Electric suppliers say they do not have enough fuel to get materials such as transformers, poles and wire to utilities.

Utilities also are concerned about the natural gas supply to fuel their plants. Alabama’s generation and transmission co-op expects things to get tight in 10 to 12 days, Braswell says. "Natural gas is getting tight. Things will get worse before they get better," he says.

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