Insights > Entergy responds to 1970s energy crisis with heightened focus on long-term sustainability
Entergy responds to 1970s energy crisis with heightened focus on long-term sustainability
Ask anyone who lived through the 1970s what they remember about the energy crisis, and you’ll hear some common themes: The oil embargo and skyrocketing fuel prices. Panic over gasoline shortages and long lines at the pump. Energy conservation mandates and growing concerns over America’s dependence on foreign oil.
For the utility industry, the crisis was a reckoning point that held long-term repercussions for millions of customers nationwide. Signs were clear that the status quo was no longer tenable—it was a new era that demanded new solutions.
Today, Entergy Mississippi’s customers and communities continue benefiting from actions taken by the company to forge a new direction into the future. They include the construction of Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, which has been safely generating emission-free electricity for nearly 40 years, and an emphasis on energy-saving programs and technologies that help customers control costs and reduce their carbon footprint.
The company also sought relief for customers struggling with record energy costs by launching the “Concern” initiative in partnership with local communities. It eventually became The Power to Care, an Entergy-wide program that provides emergency bill-payment assistance for low-income elderly and disabled customers.
“When a company lasts 100 years, that means it stayed the course through a lot of ups and downs,” said Katherine Nelson, who rose to internal communications manager while working for Mississippi Power & Light, the precursor to Entergy Mississippi, from 1974 to 1988. “Entergy had a common denominator: They were men and women of integrity who were very forward-thinking and committed to customers. They were successful at developing strategic, long-term plans to make sure customers had access to affordable electricity to power Mississippi’s economy.”
Driving innovation and energy conservation
Though the company announced plans in 1972 to build Grand Gulf, it would be more than a decade before the plant was ready to supply power to the grid. In the meantime, Entergy Mississippi pursued a variety of strategies to mitigate the effects of the energy crisis.
As part of Middle South Utilities, the company helped form System Fuels, Inc., which specialized in finding and acquiring fuels for its generating facilities. When the oil embargo sent shockwaves through the economy in 1973, Entergy Mississippi launched a $50 million program to adapt its plants to efficiently burn fuel oil, a less expensive and domestically produced alternative to natural gas.
Entergy also invested more resources in helping customers conserve energy and save money. Marketing campaigns promoted energy-efficient heat pumps and water heaters, and innovative strategies such as off-peak metering helped customers lower bills by running appliances during early morning or evening hours.
The Energy Efficient Electric program, or E3, encouraged home builders to adopt energy-efficient construction standards, such as increasing wall and attic insulation, while the “Zip Up” program focused on conservation tips for homeowners.
Efforts to help customers improve energy efficiency became hardwired into Entergy Mississippi’s service offerings. Through today’s Entergy Solutions program, residential and business customers can access resources to increase energy and cost savings along with energy-efficient products and programs in the Entergy Solutions Marketplace.
When the first mass-produced electric car debuted in 1975, Entergy Mississippi incorporated it into its pro-electricity messaging. Built by Florida-based Sebring-Vanguard, the tiny, red 3.5-horsepower CitiCar was often seen zipping around town during its sensational albeit short life in Jackson.
“I got to ride in a parade in the CitiCar, and luckily we got it back to the office in time before it quit on us—it was not that reliable,” Nelson said. “But who would have thought electric cars in the 70s? The company was always in tune with anything that was on the horizon in terms of promoting electricity.”
Entergy stayed in tune with the electric vehicle market and has been advancing EV technology and infrastructure as part of its sustainability goals. Entergy is working with other utilities to install EV charging stations throughout major regions of the U.S.; and Entergy Mississippi recently launched the first company-owned EV charging station of its kind in Entergy Corporation’s four-state service area. The pilot project also will study the effects of EV charging on the electric grid.
In 1978, solar technology came to Entergy Mississippi when NASA selected its training center in Clinton for a five-year project to test solar heating. Funded by the Department of Energy, the experimental solar unit provided heating and hot water for the training staff’s overnight facility.
Powering out of the crisis and onto the path to premier
But it would be decades before utility-scale solar power and electric vehicles entered the mainstream. In Mississippi, all eyes were on nuclear power and Grand Gulf Unit 1, which was 60% complete in 1979 when a partial meltdown occurred at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania.
In response to the accident, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission indefinitely suspended all plant construction projects. Grand Gulf was delayed more than a year, resulting in major cost overruns. When construction resumed, utilities were required to make Three Mile Island-related modifications that drove up budgets. Anti-nuclear protests were on the rise, and many construction projects were eventually canceled, including Grand Gulf Unit 2.
It was a dark chapter for nuclear power, yet the energy crisis persisted. Entergy Mississippi filed for rate increases to address volatile fuel prices and sought cheaper sources of electricity. The company purchased 25% of the coal-fired Independence Steam Electric Station in Arkansas and explored the feasibility of building a coal plant in DeSoto County and a hydroelectric unit on the Ross Barnett Reservoir north of Jackson.
The energy equation in the U.S. began shifting in the late 1970s with the completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System as well as the enactment of national energy policies. But even with a plentiful new supply of cheaper domestic crude oil, it would take years for the utility industry to recover from disruptions in global oil markets.
Entergy Mississippi held fast to its vision to bring the stabilizing benefits of nuclear energy to Mississippians. On July 1, 1985, Grand Gulf entered commercial operations, and by the end of the decade, it was one of the top-performing nuclear plants in the country. In 2016, the NRC validated Grand Gulf’s sustained record of safe operations by granting a license extension through 2044, two additional decades past the plant’s original licensing date.
“We answered the challenges of the energy crisis by investing in new technologies and transforming our generation mix with more diverse fuel sources,” said Haley Fisackerly, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi. “Since that time, we’ve also stepped up our environmental leadership by voluntarily reducing carbon emissions and seeking more sustainable strategies to power life safely, reliably and affordably for many generations to come.
As more efficient and economical generation options became available, Entergy Mississippi replaced older fossil units with combined cycle gas turbine technology, enabling more electricity to be produced from the same amount of fuel while reducing carbon emissions.
With the addition of Sunflower Solar Station in 2022 and similar projects on the horizon, customers also have a growing supply of emission-free renewable energy as part of EDGE, for “Economic Development with Green Energy,” a program that will add 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy to the grid by 2027.
Entergy Mississippi’s decision in 2013 to join the Midcontinent Independent System Operator also has helped secure access to a reliable supply of electricity while providing $284 million in economic benefits to the company and its customers.
“As we enter a new century of operations in Mississippi, we’re focused on becoming the premier utility,” Fisackerly said, “and that means working every day to build a brighter, more resilient future for our customers and communities.”