NEW ORLEANS — An internal investigation by Entergy New Orleans has found that a third-party contractor and unauthorized subcontractor hired paid actors to attend council meetings to show support for a controversial power plant in New Orleans East.
The City Council gave final approval in March for Entergy to build a $210 million, 128-megawatt plant on Old Gentilly Road that will replace Entergy’s old plant in Michoud. The plant has been met with heavy opposition from neighbors and energy advocates who are pushing for Entergy to use alternative energy sources and not rely on natural gas. Opponents say the new plant will increase pollution and utility bills.
The Lens first reported May 4 that the people wearing orange shirts in support of the Entergy plant were paid $60 to attend meetings and fill up the council chambers, while actors who got speaking roles at the meetings were paid $200.
Entergy New Orleans maintains it did not hire paid actors to support the plant, but it did hire The Hawthorn Group to help organize grassroots support for the plant at public hearings. According to Entergy, Hawthorn Group then hired Crowds on Demand — without Entergy’s knowledge or approval.
“These kinds of activities run directly counter to the way we conduct our business,” Entergy General Counsel Marcus Brown said, “and we apologize to the Council, the community, and to the many supporters of the New Orleans Power Station project who took their own time to
attend those public hearings and express their support for this important project. We are extremely grateful for that support, and regret that the poor judgment and unauthorized actions of a few created this situation.”
Entergy has severed its relationship with The Hawthorn Group, and placed that firm and Crowds on Demand on the Company’s “do not hire” list. Entergy also said that all fees paid to Hawthorn for its work in connection with the New Orleans Power Station will be returned to Entergy and donated to charitable organizations.
Entergy began its investigation after a lawsuit was filed on April 19, 2018, that included credible and specific allegations that people had been paid to attend or speak at public meetings.