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CEO says Entergy will thrive on industrial boom

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Entergy Corp. CEO Leo Denault is predicting above-average growth in the next five to 10 years, thanks to an industrial boom along the Gulf Coast powered by low natural gas prices.

"We see a growing utility with a significant amount of opportunity in terms of the industrial renaissance we see taking place in the Gulf South," Denault said Friday at the company's annual meeting in Jackson, Mississippi.

New Orleans-based Entergy has counted 85 announced industrial projects worth $65 billion across its territory in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. Many rely on natural gas, but Denault says Entergy can sell large amounts of electricity to new and expanding industries. He said the company hopes to acquire customers who will use as much as 2,500 megawatts, which would represent nearly 10 percent of the company's current 30,000 megawatts of generating capacity.

That could spark a need to build new power plants, Denault told The Associated Press in an interview after the meeting. But he said the company would be able to hold off longer than it otherwise would because of its membership in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator. That regional transmission organization directs electricity flows to try to match up supply and demand at the lowest cost.

MISO and another regional transmission group, Southwest Power Pool, are locked in a dispute over electricity that MISO has been sending over SPP's grid. SPP, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, says MISO should pay for moving the power, while MISO says the entities have an agreement that allows either to ship power over the other's grid at no cost.

For now, MISO has limited power shipments to 1,000 megawatts per day, the capacity of the only power line that ties Entergy to MISO's original Midwest territory. In a power auction for Entergy territory, prices rose, which MISO attributed to the limit.

Denault said that despite disputes, he believes Entergy ratepayers will reap the full projected benefits of the company joining Indiana-based MISO. That's because Entergy projected $1.4 billion in benefits based only on the 1,000-megawatt line, Denault said.

After regulators rejected Entergy's plans to spin off its transmission system to ITC Holdings, the company now plans to spend $1.7 billion to upgrade its high-voltage wires. Denault said Entergy ratepayers would be asked to pay for that investment.

Shareholders Friday also rejected proposals to force Entergy to shut down its Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan, New York, or to require the company to issue twice-yearly nuclear safety reports.

March Gallagher, who traveled from New York to ask fellow shareholders to close Indian Point, said the nuclear plant is vulnerable to terrorism, earthquakes and hurricanes.

"It is in the long-term financial and reputational interests of Entergy to begin decommissioning Indian Point," said Gallagher. Last year, Entergy said it would shut down its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Denault said Indian Point is "the most significant asset" in Entergy's wholesale electricity business, and said it's crucial that it get relicensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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