‘Community Lighthouse’ project aims to bring solar hubs to provide power after a hurricane at churches and community centers

Together New Orleans, a local advocacy coalition, bills the project as having a goal of placing a microgrid within a 15 minute walk of all New Orleans residents, and placing hubs in parishes across Louisiana.
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 10:08 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - One New Orleans-based group has a lofty goal: finding a solution to issues that arise with Louisiana’s power grid in the days and weeks immediately following a major storm.

After Hurricane Ida in 2021, almost the entirety of the New Orleans metro area was without power for days. Some areas didn’t see power restored for weeks, and some even months.

Together New Orleans, an advocacy group comprised of various local churches, synagogues, mosques, unions, universities and climate policy groups, thinks the solution can be found in harnessing solar power.

“Community Lighthouse” is a project aiming to outfit churches and community centers across Louisiana with commercial-scale solar panels and back-up battery capacity, allowing the “resilience hubs” to serve as bases for disaster relief workers and a place for nearby residents to come and cool off, get food and supplies or charge devices.

“Every time there’s a disaster, people know where to go. They know who stands up,” said Andy Kopplin, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans Foundation, which provided a one million dollar grant to “Community Lighthouse.”

Kopplin said Greater New Orleans Foundation is playing the role of founding funder of the project.

On Tuesday, organizers celebrated that an additional $3.8 million in federal funding would be allocated, with the help of Congressman Troy Carter.

“We know there’s going to be another hurricane. The question is how can we be more prepared for the next one than we were for the last one,” Kopplin said. “It’s not just giving out supplies more efficiently, it’s letting people charge their phones, charge their medical equipment.”

In total, 16 locations are planned across New Orleans, including Household of Faith Family Worship Church, where Together New Orleans gathered congregants and politicians to discuss the future of “Community Lighthouse.”

Eight locations are planned for other parts of the state, including locations serving LaPlace, Plaquemines/St. Bernard, Jefferson, and Terrebone.

“One thing we learned first hand is that your neighbors are your first responders,” said New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

Cantrell said the project reminds her of her days as a community organizer, working in Broadmoor during the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

“The city, your city, cannot do it alone. We saw that after Hurricane Katrina, no doubt about it. We saw it even after Ida. But we’re making sound decisions on the front end,” Cantrell said.

A map shows the 16 proposed "lighthouse" locations across New Orleans.
A map shows the 16 proposed "lighthouse" locations across New Orleans.(WVUE)

Cantrell said approximately $13.8 million is needed to fund the 16 sites, but vowed to make the work happen.

Eventually, the goal is to have 85 to 100 congregations and community centers across Louisiana operating as “resilience hubs.”

Construction is slated to begin on phase one of the project in 2023.

A map shows the 8 locations proposed as "lighthouses" across Louisiana.
A map shows the 8 locations proposed as "lighthouses" across Louisiana.(WVUE)

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