Years of Sierra Club Legal Advocacy Result in the Retirement of Two Coal Plants in Louisiana

March 22, 2024: In a critical step towards transitioning from coal to clean energy, the Louisiana Public Service Commission approved Entergy Louisiana’s long-range energy plan, which commits the utility to retiring two large coal-burning power plants in 2025 and 2028. The Commission’s order is the culmination of years of legal advocacy led by Sierra Club and allies and is a major win for the climate that will protect the health of the environmental justice communities where the plants are located. 

The two units total more than 1230 MW and have polluted the surrounding communities for decades. Big Cajun II Unit 3 is located in Pointe Coupee Parish outside of Baton Rouge, a 57% Black community that has been forced to breathe toxins from this top polluter for the last 41 years. R.S. Nelson Unit 6 is a 40-year old, 615 MW plant in Calcasieu Parish, where 12.8% of families and 15.4% of the population live below the poverty line. Retiring these two plants will avoid approximately 8.6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which amounts to nearly 2 million gas-powered vehicles being taken off the road. The retirement of these facilities will also avoid thousands of tons of harmful sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter emissions each year, reducing the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular illness.  

Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program (ELP) has, for many years, pressured Entergy (and Cleco Cajun, the co-owner of Big Cajun II) to retire these power plants. In multiple Public Service Commission dockets in both Louisiana and Texas, ELP challenged the utility’s fuel spending during periods of time where other, less-expensive energy was available; advocated for the replacement of the plants with cheaper renewable energy options; and challenged Entergy's Continued capital investments in these plants on the backs of the utility’s customers. In federal litigation involving the Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze program, ELP challenged Louisiana’s failure to require R.S. Nelson to install and operate cost-effective, industry-standard control technology to reduce pollution that harms public health and national parks. 

Two recent ELP engagements led to key decisions triggering Entergy’s retirement announcements. First, in Entergy’s most-recent Texas rate case, ELP presented robust technical and economic evidence demonstrating that R.S. Nelson Unit 6 and Big Cajun II Unit 3 have been steadily declining in both usefulness and profitability over the past decade, incurring unnecessary costs for ratepayers. As a result of ELP’s legal advocacy, the Texas Public Service Commission entered an order locking in depreciation schedules (think: the payoff schedule for a mortgage) for both Big Cajun II Unit 3 and R.S. Nelson Unit 6 that align with the 2025 and 2028 retirement dates. 

Second, in Entergy’s Louisiana Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) proceeding, ELP presented detailed expert evidence emphasizing the environmental and economic risks associated with continuing to operate both power plants, while highlighting the affordability of renewable energy replacement. Moreover, due to ELP’s legal advocacy and analysis in another Louisiana Public Service Commission docket, Entergy agreed to bid R.S. Nelson Unit 6 into the regional energy market on “economic” status only, meaning that it will only operate when it can make money (surprisingly, that is not the case currently). This huge win will immediately save ratepayers money on their electric bills, as well as minimize pollution from the plant before it retires in 2028.

Sierra Club Environmental Law Program attorneys Kristin Henry, Tony Mendoza, Casey Roberts, Matt Gerhart, and Joshua Smith have represented Sierra Club in various proceedings involving R.S. Nelson and Big Cajun II, with critical analytical guidance from Principal Climate and Energy Advisor Jeremey Fisher, and assistance from Environmental Law Program Research Analysts Ashey Soliman and Lauren Hogrewe.