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LIPA

Port Jeff includes $107K in 2018-19 budget for anticipated “glide path”

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. File Photo

The potential ramifications of the looming LIPA lawsuit specter may finally be coming into focus.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant announced during a public hearing April 2 on the 2018-19 budget the village is “on the cusp of a settlement” with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. LIPA has argued the estimate is too high based on decreased energy demand, and the village accused LIPA of breaching its contract, which was supposed to run until 2028. The village and Port Jefferson School District receive substantial revenue from LIPA’s tax dollars and have had the prospect of lost revenue hanging over future financial planning. Port Jefferson is among other municipalities, like Northport, which host plants that have lawsuits against LIPA and believe the contract has been breached.

Garant said the board came to the decision to write $107,000 into the upcoming budget to create a reserve fund to prepare in anticipation for a “glide path” agreement, in which the village’s LIPA revenue will be scaled down gradually over time. The figure was chosen to bring the total budget’s tax levy increase to exactly 2 percent, thus avoiding asking residents to pierce the cap. The 2018-19 adopted budget is $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from to the current year, with the largest driver of the increase being the money set aside to deal with LIPA.

“The appropriations of reserves that we have accumulated over the last six to seven years aside, once we know what the glide path looks like, we will be putting our fund balance, monies that we’ve built, into that reserve account, which kind of locks it away so that future boards, if there should be future boards, can’t take that money and do something else with it,” Garant said. “It’ll preserve that money and entrust it to contributing toward the glide path.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced during his State of the Town address April 3 it had reached a settlement with LIPA on its version of the assessment suit. Village Attorney Brian Egan said Brookhaven’s settlement would have no impact on Port Jeff’s discussions, and that negotiations were ongoing.

“This year it’s basically another rollover budget like we’ve had in the past with very minimal changes,” village treasurer, Denise Mordente, said during the presentation. Other factors contributing to the budget increase included contractual raises for village employees, the increasing minimum wage, increased costs for medical benefits, and some additional funds for code enforcement that were used for installing security cameras and maintenance throughout the village, among a few others.

The board also passed a resolution that would give it the option to pierce the tax levy increase cap — as it does every year — should it need to do so, though that is not in the village’s plans for the upcoming year.

Port Jefferson School District offered a scathing statement in response to the news about Brookhaven’s settlement, saying it is “deeply troubled,” to hear of the settlement.

“This decision will imminently place the School District in harm’s way,” the statement said.

This story was updated April 4 to remove information mistakenly included about a public budget vote, and to include a statement from Port Jefferson School District.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). File photo

New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) wants to make it more difficult for LIPA to increase rates for its customers.

LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) introduced the Long Island Power Authority Rate Reform Act in January, a bill drafted to require the not-for-profit public utility’s board of trustees to “protect the economic interests of its ratepayers and the service area,” in addition to the interests of the utility company when considering a rate increase proposal, according to a joint press release from the lawmakers. The bill would also prevent LIPA from increasing rates to offset revenue losses associated with energy conservation efforts, like the installation of energy-efficient appliances and lightbulbs. If passed, it would be mandated the board hold public hearings within each county overseen by LIPA prior to finalizing rate plans.

Currently, LIPA’s board is required to consider three criteria when a rate increase is proposed by the State Department of Public Service: sound fiscal operating practices, existing contractual obligations and safe and adequate service, according to the press release.

“While we have been working to keep Long Island affordable by implementing measures like the 2 percent property tax cap, LIPA approved the largest rate increase in its history,” LaValle said in a statement, citing a three-year rate increase approved by the board in 2015. “This measure will enable more community input by mandating a public hearing when considering rate changes. In addition, this legislation would provide the trustees with the tools necessary to reject rate increases that would cause additional financial burdens on Long Islanders.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant each voiced support for LaValle’s bill.

“The record amount of investment in reliability, customer service and clean energy all come at a time when electric rates have remained roughly flat for decade,” LIPA Trustee Tom McAteer said in a statement through spokesman Sid Nathan. “Customer satisfaction is significantly higher and customers see PSEG Long Island crews tree-trimming and storm-hardening the electric grid throughout the year. Those are the facts. Not opinion. The Reform Act is working for our customers.”

The LIPA Reform Act was enacted in 2013 to revamp the utility’s operations, including empowering the board to decide on proposed rate increases. PSEG Long Island — which operates LIPA’s distribution systems — Media Relations Specialist Elizabeth Flagler said in a statement the company is reviewing the legislation and will be monitoring its status.

The proposed legislation comes as municipalities continue settlement discussions pertaining to lawsuits filed by Port Jeff Village and Port Jefferson School District — both in LaValle’s home district — in addition to the Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport School District against LIPA to prevent the utility’s challenges to property value assessments at the Port Jeff and Northport plants. The result of the lawsuits could have a dramatic impact on Port Jeff Village and its school district, as both entities receive substantial property tax revenue as a host community of a LIPA power plant.

The Port Jeff plant is currently used about 11 percent of the time, during periods of peak energy generation demand, an argument LIPA has used against the village’s public pleas to repower its plant and give LIPA more bang for its tax-assessment buck. A 2017 LIPA study predicted by 2030 the Port Jeff plant might only be needed about 6 percent of the year, thanks in part to the emergence energy efficient household appliances. In August 2016 New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mandated that 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, by 2030.

Bruce Blower, a spokesman for LaValle, did not respond to an email asking if the proposed legislation was drafted with the lawsuits in mind, or if a settlement was imminent. Both the senate and assembly versions of the bill are in committee and would require passage by both houses and a signature from Cuomo prior to becoming law.

The Shoreham power plant on North Country Road provides peak power to the community and payments in lieu of taxes to the Shoreham-Wading River school district. Photo from Jason White

A Brookhaven organization recently saved energy in the most literal sense, and a reliable revenue stream too.

The Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency (IDA) announced Nov. 27 it prevented the shutdown of an electric-generating plant in Shoreham, which provides peak power to the community and is expected to contribute $852,000 in property taxes or payments in lieu of taxes, commonly known as PILOTs, to the Shoreham-Wading River school district this year.

Brookhaven’s business arm has entered into a new, 20-year PILOT agreement with owners of the 90 megawatt, jet-fueled facility located on 10 acres of land on North Country Road, leased by the Long Island Power Authority. The facility’s previous PILOT and power purchase agreement between LIPA and Brookhaven expired this past August after 15 years.

In the proposal for the PILOT, which became the adopted policy when it was approved by the IDA in January 2017, projected gradual benefits range from $1.2 million in its first year to $1.7 million in its 20th.

The partnership began in September 2016 when members of J-Power USA — owners of the facility since 2010 — realized the expired pact would bring about a 33 percent reduction in revenue and a 50 percent reduction in economic benefits. The members were also told by LIPA representatives that the nonprofit would not be involved in negotiating a new PILOT.

“We wanted to see if Brookhaven would be able to offer a new PILOT that would  allow us to remain financially viable and our agreement has removed that big uncertainty,” said Jason White, director of asset management at the J-Power Shoreham branch. “Our facility uses General Electric combustion
turbines and while it doesn’t operate a lot, it’s important to the electric grid for stability purposes. It’s maintained so that it can respond very quickly if it’s called upon.”

White said although there had to be consideration to disassemble the power plant and move off Long Island in the case an agreement couldn’t be reached, it wouldn’t be a simple process, and the facility’s six
employees live close by.

“Our preference all along was to continue to operate the plant site and to continue to be a contributor to the local community,” White said.

By securing the power plant’s place in Shoreham, revenue is boosted for the school district, which relies heavily on it as a source of both energy and property tax revenue.

“I am pleased that we have been able to close on this new agreement with J-Power,” said Frederick Braun, chairman of the IDA. “Had we been unable to keep this plant from moving off Long Island with this new agreement, the Shoreham School District and other taxing jurisdictions would receive no payments at all, resulting in an even larger loss to those taxing jurisdictions.

The school district, which included the finalization of $852,000 in PILOT revenue in its Revised and Lowered Expenditure Budget & Tax Levy in October, approved the agreement in a resolution during a board meeting last Jan. 10.

“Be it resolved that the Board of Education of the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District supports the proposed financial assistance contemplated by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency in connection with the J-Power Peaker Plant,” the letter read.

Lisa Mulligan, the IDA’s chief executive officer, said she had been in contact with the district’s board of education since meetings began with J-Power “as they were the most impacted by this.”

“We didn’t want to pursue something if they were not interested in it,” Mulligan said. “But the board wrote to us and told us they were … I think it’s important to bring money into the school district and also provide this power to residents when it’s needed.”

Officials say the subcontractor for PSEG/LIPA is violating town code

Material outside Asplundh Construction, located across the street from Mount Sinai schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Brookhaven Town leaders are determined to stamp out what they’ve deemed an illegal eyesore in Mount Sinai — a commercial retail area turned industrial facility on Route 25A near the entrance to the school district campus. Officials said by being there, the owners and tenants of the property are willfully violating town zoning codes and damaging quality of life in the process.

During a press conference Aug. 22, town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), along with town officials and a civic leader, stood across from a fenced-in lot where concrete is crushed and dozens of the Asplundh Construction company’s trucks, as well as poles and large spools of cable, are stored.

A lineup of Asplundh Construction trucks on the company’s lot. Photo by Kevin Redding

Romaine said the type of activity on the property, which is owned by Nkp Properties LLC, of Farmingdale, is illegal under J-2 zoning and is restricted to industrial property only — a fact he said Nkp is aware of as it paid a town-issued fine of $4,000 in April. Despite paying the fine and pleading guilty to violating the town code, Nkp continues to use the property. The group was met with more fines July 24, which included a ticket for a second offense of the code violations and for not having site plans to try and legalize the activities on the site.

According to the town’s deputy attorney, David Moran, the attorney for Nkp  at the time “acknowledged that the use was not appropriate and said he was going to try to get all the necessary site plans and approvals in.”

No one from Asplundh Construction returned phone calls for a request for comment, and visits to the site for questions were directed back to the telephone number.

Officials during the press conference called on the company, a subcontractor of PSEG and LIPA, to vacate the property as soon as possible.

“The parents that drop their children off at the school, employees and civic members— residents in Mount Sinai certainly don’t appreciate what’s going on across the street from us.”

Jane Bonner

“The last time I looked, LIPA was a public utility whose subcontractor is willfully flouting zoning laws in the Town of Brookhaven,” Romaine said. “That type of zoning violation is one we will not stand for. We are particularly concerned because this is adjacent to the Mount Sinai schools. We’re asking that they come into compliance or we have to take further action.

The property was previously the site of a party equipment rental business. When Asplundh moved in, a structure on the site was demolished.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said it’s negatively impacting the town.

“One of the things that the Mount Sinai community is desirous of is a corridor that is user-friendly and appealing to the eye,” Bonner said, looking at the Nkp property behind her. “I’ve been in office almost 10 years and for the past eight years, the property behind me has been a constant source of complaints from the community, the parents that drop their children off at the school, employees and civic members. Residents in Mount Sinai certainly don’t appreciate what’s going on across the street from us.”

Bonner said she would like to settle this problem before the start of the new school year. More than 30 Asplundh trucks, she said, drive in and out of the lot every morning, which can become a safety concern once buses join Route 25A traffic.

Ann Becker, president of the Mount Sinai Civic Association, also expressed her concerns.

Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker talks about her feelings toward the construction company across the street from Mount Sinai schools during a press conference Aug. 22. Photo by Kevin Redding

“The civic, which recently celebrated 100 years, has been working to maintain the quality of life here in Mount Sinai for all that time and we continue to do so, and we continuously get complaints about this location and now it’s becoming even worse than it was before,” Becker said. “We’re really wanting to have nice businesses here and we’ve done a lot of work on beautification … what’s happening behind us is absolutely against everything the civic has stood for.”

She said she hopes the current owners ultimately cease and desist so that the location is turned into something more appropriate for the community.

Moran said he believes the businesses will try to get away with the violations as long as they can in order to maximize every dollar out of it to help fund construction projects.

“From a prosecutorial standpoint these types of flagrant violations will not be tolerated in the Town of Brookhaven,” he said. “You can’t just buy property and use it to your will. We have codes that must be followed and, in this instance, I can assure you that we will ensure that they follow our codes.”

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

By Alex Petroski

The terms of two Port Jefferson Village board trustees and the mayor are up this year and an election awaits them June 20, but in a race devoid of actual opponents, those up for reelection have opposition in the form of difficult, long-range challenges to square off against instead.

Barring a groundswell of support for a potential write-in candidate, incumbent trustees Stanley Loucks and Larry LaPointe, as well as incumbent Mayor Margot Garant know they’ll be serving the community for another two-year term after the election.

Garant will embark on her fifth term in office, while Loucks is set to begin his second and LaPointe his fourth.

Port Jefferson Village residents will see only incumbents on the June 20 ballot, including Margot Garant, left and Stanley Loucks. Photo by Alex Petroski

With long-term issues looming, like large-scale apartment developments and an ongoing legal battle with the Long Island Power Authority, Garant said a focus of her first four terms has been to bolster the village’s sources of revenue in any way possible. Beautification projects funded in large part by state and county grants are underway in upper Port, the area surrounding the Long Island Railroad station, in an effort to get blighted and vacant properties back on the village’s tax roll and attract private investors to build in the area.

“I really wanted to make sure that we …had a beautiful new gateway on the south side of the village that made you feel like you were entering the village of Port Jefferson in upper Port,” Garant said. “I think we owe that to the upper Port community.”

Loucks, who serves as the board’s liaison to the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club and to the village’s recreation department, said his focus has been on improving and building up each of those village assets in the hopes of attracting members and village participation — another source of village revenue. About $100,000 of tax dollars were invested to improve the golf course’s village-owned grill room, which Loucks said is now an asset for the club.

“This year alone our membership, for the first time since I’ve been involved … is up,” Loucks said during the May 25 interview. “We’ve had a decline in membership over the past 10 years. Approximately 50 members per year on average have left us either through attrition or they’ve passed away or they’ve moved away or gone to other clubs. This year we’re up.”

LaPointe, the deputy mayor, was someone Garant pointed to as a possible successor when she decides to step away.

“I’m happy to see Margot in that chair because I think she’s been a wonderful mayor,” he said in an interview. “I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of this and that’s why I continue to do it.”

All three incumbents surmised that a lack of challengers could serve as proof residents are happy with the job the board is doing. Garant explained that the platform of the Unity Party, the name the three have attributed to their joint ticket, is to do what’s best for the community. The result has been a board that has a positive and productive rapport, according to Garant.

“We may not always agree, but we’ll always be able to listen. We’ll try and compromise, but largely we’re not on opposite pages,” she said. “I think if you put your self-interests aside and say, ‘What’s in the best interest of the village?’ we’ll all get there together. I think that that’s how
we survived.”

Trustee Bruce Miller, who Garant said tends to have differing opinions from the rest of the board at times, said in a phone interview he wished his colleagues faced some opposition because it would be a chance for different viewpoints from the community to be brought to the forefront.

“There are some ideas that I have, but there’s nobody to bring these ideas forth,” he said. “I’m not completely thrilled, but at some level it does reflect some contentment in what’s going on.”

He reiterated that the working relationship within the board is overwhelmingly positive.

Bruce D’Abramo, the fifth member of the board, said in an email he fully supports Garant, Loucks and LaPointe in their reelection bids.

LaPointe expressed a similar sentiment regarding varying viewpoints from residents being heard and represented.

“I think in a way it’s a disadvantage because when we run with an opponent, which we’ve done several times, it forces us to take the time to go and knock on doors, and the last time we found that very, very fruitful,” he said. “I want to talk to some people other than the people who typically come to board meetings.”

Each of the three candidates expressed a desire to see solutions to some of the more difficult problems through to the end before stepping aside.

A lawsuit is currently pending that includes the village and the Port Jefferson School District as plaintiffs against LIPA, associated with the power authority’s desire to pay less in property taxes at sites like the Port Jefferson power plant because of its condition and infrequent use. The village and district receive substantial amounts of revenue from property taxes because of the presence of the plant.

Port Jefferson Village residents will see only incumbents on the June 20 ballot, including Larry Lapointe. Photo by Alex Petroski

Garant said in an interview in her office May 25 the village will continue to build up its unencumbered fund balance as a savings to use in the event a settlement is reached between the two parties that results in a loss of revenue for the village. The plan is to reach an agreement with LIPA with a gradual reduction in their property taxes, should the village’s first choice of repowering the plant not happen.

In addition, three apartment complexes in the village are at various stages of completion, which will in total result in nearly 300 new living spaces for new village residents. The expansion is expected to stimulate local businesses, but could wreak havoc on the school district should renters with school-aged children flood the homes, with little gain in property tax revenue because of financial assistance agreements reached between the property developers and the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency.

The village will receive PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes, for 15 years instead of actual property tax revenue thanks to the agreements.

For example, The Shipyard apartment complex being constructed by TRITEC Development Group, across from Port Jefferson Harbor on the corner of East Broadway and Barnum Avenue, would net the village about $49,000 in property tax revenue in 2025, according to Garant. Thanks to the agreement, the PILOT payments in that year will amount to about $3,000. Garant estimated the losses for the village to exceed a half a million dollars by 2030. She said she and the board opposed the agreement between the Suffolk IDA and TRITEC. However, building permits and other fees written into the village code will serve to offset a small portion of those costs, Garant added.

Increased traffic and the sheer size of the projects have also caused angst among some longtime village residents.

Extreme low temperatures caused enough demand to require use of the Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Erika Karp

The Long Island Power Authority is tied up in a battle with communities including Port Jefferson Village that host, by LIPA’s estimation, outdated and increasingly obsolete power plants with steep property tax sticker prices. After the release of a study on the possibility of refurbishing and repowering, among others, the Port Jefferson Power Station, the power authority now has the data to back up their assertions.

LIPA released its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan and Repowering Studies April 22, a report conducted by their partner PSEG Long Island’s engineers, energy specialists, planners and consultants, which was later independently reviewed by consulting firm the Brattle Group and the New York State Department of Public Service.

Trustee Bruce Miller speaks at a hearing opposing National Grid’s proposal to lift limits on peaker unit output. Photo by Alex Petroski

In August 2016, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mandated that 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, by 2030. The study found that if LIPA were to achieve compliance, it would be overkill to cover times of peak demand that renewable sources couldn’t cover by repowering the Port Jefferson steam unit plant, which runs on oil or gas, and increasing its use. Currently the plant, which was built in the 1950s, is only used about 11 percent of the time. LIPA’s study suggested that number could be as low as six percent by 2030 if trends regarding the efficiency and availability of renewable sources of energy continue.

The study also concluded forecasts for peak demand are decreasing, due to an increase of energy efficiency products on the market for consumers, meaning the repowering of the Port Jefferson Power Station would not be necessary in years to come. The plant has the capacity to produce about 400 megawatts of power, and LIPA’s study said they need to add about 800 megawatts of renewable power sources to be compliant with Cuomo’s mandate by 2030 as is.

A lawsuit is currently pending that includes Port Jefferson Village and the Port Jefferson School District as plaintiffs against LIPA, associated with the power authority’s desire to pay less in property taxes at sites like the Port Jefferson power plant because of its condition and infrequent use. The village and district receive substantial amounts of revenue from property taxes because of the presence of the plant. The lawsuit alleges LIPA is breaching their contract, which runs until 2028.

The village has proposed that upgrading and repowering the plant with updated technology would be a fair compromise to allow them to continue receiving the same amount of revenue.

“A plant like this should really run about 80 percent of the time,” LIPA chief executive officer Thomas Falcone said in an interview. “In the ‘90s they were running about 50 percent of the time. Right now Port Jeff is running 11 percent of the time, which basically implies it’s running in the summer … it’s not to say we’ll never build another power plant, it’s just to say that these aren’t the right power plants to build. You put in all of this investment optimized around a plant that is going to run 24 hours a day. If it doesn’t run 24 hours a day it’s a very, very expensive plant, which is the wrong kind of plant.”

Falcone added LIPA still needs the plant, and utilizing more peaker units, which are meant to supplement other energy sources and are only used in times of peak demand using gas or oil, would be a sensible way to utilize Port Jefferson going forward. He said LIPA’s goal is to reach an amicable solution for everyone involved.

“We’re a state-run utility. We’re a state-owned, community-owned utility,” he said. “We find ourselves in a situation that is a real sticky wicket for everybody. The community obviously is entitled to compensation for hosting a power plant. On the flip side we have 1.1 million customers and I think only about 3,500 of those customers live in Port Jeff Village. So those other 1.1 million customers are also entitled to pay a fairer level of compensation and not an excessive one.”

Falcone and village Mayor Margot Garant both said settlement discussions are ongoing between the two sides, and Garant said a proposal was submitted to LIPA about 30 days ago.

“We’re a state-run utility. We’re a state-owned, community-owned utility. We find ourselves in a situation that is a real sticky wicket for everybody.”

— Thomas Falcone

Garant weighed in on the findings of the reports in a phone interview.

“We’re digesting these reports, we’re doing our homework and gathering data, and we don’t agree [with the findings of the report on the possibility of repowering],” she said. “Our concern is that report is driving a conclusion that they wanted to have instead of being objective.”

The Brattle Group issued a statement regarding the possibility of repowering.

“None of the plants are needed for reliability or economic purposes. For all the options the plant costs exceed their benefits for at least the next decade,” the statement said in part.

In March, Port Jefferson Village hosted two public hearings to allow residents to voice opinions on a petition issued by National Grid, another LIPA partner in delivering power to the island, to the New York State Public Service Commission asking for caps on peaker output to be lifted. Village residents and trustees contended at the time the move was a thinly-veiled effort to squash the hopes of repowering the steam unit.

Bob Foxen, chief executive officer of Global Common, LLC, was contracted by Port Jefferson Village to study the plausibility of a scaled-down plant that would utilize peakers and upgraded steam units at the current Port Jefferson site, a compromise that Falcone said he would be open to. Foxen’s study is ongoing.

Ryan Madden from the Long Island Progressive Coalition leads a march calling for renewable energy in the form of wind. Photo from Ryan Madden

Scientists and politicians are relied upon to do the bulk of the work to reduce the effects and pace of climate change, but local activist organizations on Long Island are taking on the burden as well.

“I think it’s really important for grassroots and local solutions to tackle this crisis — to be at the forefront of the solutions,” Ryan Madden, with the Long Island Progressive Coalition said. “A lot of the problems we see in this country, in New York State and on Long Island, whether it’s rampant income inequality, access to education, just issues of local pollution and ailments related to the combustion of fossil fuels, all of this connects into a larger system that informs why climate change is a problem in the first place.”

The LIPC, a community-based grassroots organization that works on a range of issues related to sustainable development as well as achieving social, racial and economic justice, has a program for improving energy efficiency. The group helps low- to moderate-income homeowners take advantage of free energy assessments and obtain financial resources to be able to go through energy-efficient retrofits and ultimately help reduce carbon footprints. The organization also recently entered the solar arena.

Members of Sustainable Long Island’s youth-staffed farmers market in New Cassel. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“It’s part of a larger push to democratize our energy system so that communities have a say in the build out of renewable energy and have ownership or control over the systems themselves,” Madden said. “We’re pushing for constructive and far-reaching changes, which is what we think is needed in this time.”

Madden added he has fears about the future because of comments President Donald Trump (R) has made in the past regarding climate change and his previously stated belief it is a hoax. Trump signed an executive order March 28 that served as a rollback of the Clean Power Plan, an initiative meant to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The order infringes on commitments to the Paris Agreement, a universal, legally binding global climate deal.

“We’re trying to meet that with really bold, visionary climate policy that has a wide range of economic transformative impacts, while also remaining on the ground helping homeowners and institutions make that switch through energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Madden said.

Other organizations like the Sierra Club, a nonprofit, are also focused on renewable energy, but in the form of offshore wind.

“Offshore wind is the best way to meet our need for large-scale renewable energy that can help us fight climate change and provide good jobs for New Yorkers, but we aren’t used to getting our energy this way in the United States,” Sierra Club organizer Shay O’Reilly said. “Instead, we’re used to relying on dirty fossil fuels, and our energy markets and production systems are centered on these ways of producing electricity.”

Gordian Raacke, with Renewable Energy Long Island also works on this front. He and his group advocated for and eventually convinced the Long Island Power Authority to do a study on offshore wind power.

“January of this year, LIPA agreed to sign a contract for New York’s first, and the country’s largest, offshore wind project,” he said.

New York Renews hosted a town hall to get community members together to talk about climate change issues. Photo from Ryan Madden

Deepwater Wind will build and operate the 90-megawatt project 30 miles east of Montauk Point in the Atlantic Ocean. The project will generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.

In 2012, the group also commissioned a study to evaluate whether Long Island could generate 100 percent of its annual electricity consumption from renewable energy sources. The study, The Long Island Clean Electricity Vision, showed that it would not only be possible, but also economically feasible.

Currently, the LIPC has a campaign to pass the Climate and Community Protection Act in New York State, which would decarbonize all sectors of New York’s economy by 2050, redirect 40 percent of all state funding to disadvantaged communities — which would decrease pollution over decades — and ensure a transition away from fossil fuels.

These topics and others are taught in classes at Stony Brook University under its Sustainability Studies Program. Areas of study include environmental humanities, anthropology, geology, chemistry, economy, environmental policies and planning. Students do hands-on and collaborative work and take on internships in the field. They also clear trails and develop businesses to help increase sustainability among other hands-on initiatives.

“Our mission is to develop students who become leaders in sustainability and help to protect the Earth,” Heidi Hutner, director of the program said. “Climate change and pollution is the most important issue facing us today. We have to find a way to live on this planet and not totally destroy it and all of its creatures. Our students are skilled in many different ways, going into nongovernmental or not-for-profit organizations, becoming law professors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, educators, but all focused on the environment. A former student of ours is the sustainability director at Harvard Medical School.”

Students from the program organized to march in the People’s Climate March in 2014, and will be doing so again April 29. The purpose of the march is to stand up to the Trump administration’s proposed environmental policies.

Students and staff at East Islip High School work with Sustainable Long Island to build a rain garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

Undergraduates in the program also work closely with environmentally active local legislators like state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), and county Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). There is also a Sierra Club on campus.

The LIPC regularly hosts round tables to show other environmental groups what it’s up to and town halls to let community members share their stories and even visit assembly members to lobby for support. Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit founded in 1998 that specialized in advancing economic development, environmental health and social equality for Long Island, also focuses on low-income communities through its programs.

Food equality and environmental health are the group’s biggest areas of concentration because according to Gabrielle Lindau, the group’s director of communications, the issues are tied to each other.

“There is a polarization here on Long Island,” she said. “We have extremely rich communities, and then we have extremely poor communities.”

According to Lindau, 283,700 people receive emergency food each year, so Sustainable LI builds community gardens and hosts youth-staffed farmers markets to combat the problem.

“It’s a game-changer for low income communities,” she said. “These communities gardens are great because they give people access to fresh, healthy food, and it also puts the power in their hands to find food and also, the learning skills to be able to grow that food. It’s also a paid program, so it’s giving them an opportunity to earn what they’re working toward.”

The youth-staffed farmers markets, which began in 2010, have been a real catalyst for change in communities like Farmingdale, Roosevelt, Freeport, Flanders, New Castle and Wyandanch where access to fresh food is not a given.

Children help Sustainable Long Island build a community garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“We have so much farming going on out east here on Long Island and I don’t think people who live here ever step back to look at all the food we have here in our own backyard,” Lindau said. “These markets are an incredible program because they’re not only teaching kids in communities about agriculture where they wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to do that, but they’re also teaching them financial literacy skills, and, at the same time, they’re bringing in healthy food items to their neighbors.”

Shameika Hanson a New York community organizer on Long Island for Mothers Out Front, an organization that works to give women a voice for change — empowering and providing them with skills and resources to get decision makers and elected officials to act on their behalf — does specific work with climate change, also calling for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. As a national organization, the topics range depending on the needs of an area from getting methane gas leaks plugged, to stopping oil trains for moving through the area, to getting involved in carbon offsets. Specifically on Long Island, women are creating a task force to ensure the drinking water quality across the island is standardized.

“Democracy doesn’t work without civic engagement,” Hanson said. “There’s a need for a conversation to happen that is united. Even though the water authorities are separate, the water isn’t.”

Sustainable Long Island also works on building rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff into local waters.

“We’re in a dire situation here on Long Island when it comes to our aquifers,” Lindau said. “We have an intense amount of nitrogen that’s already going into the ground.”

The nonprofit works with the Environmental Resource Management Foundation and PSEG Foundation and builds rain gardens like the one at the Cove Animal Rescue in Glen Cove and others in East Islip and Long Beach.

“It’s about educating communities on the importance of the rain garden and why green infrastructure practices are pivotal for environmental health on Long Island moving forward,” Lindau said. “If we don’t have clean drinking water, we’re going to be in trouble, if we don’t have usable soil to plant in, we’re not going to have farms growing the produce we need to survive and if we don’t have that produce, then we’re not going to be able to bring food into these low-income communities for people who can’t get it otherwise. They’re all connected in a number of different ways and a lot of them root back to health.”

Students in Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program participate in the 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC. Photo from Heidi Hutner

Sustainable Long Island has done work with local municipalities following superstorms like Hurricane Sandy. They helped communities rebuild, hosted peer-to-peer education meetings to better prepare locals and business owners for another devastating storm and provided job training to bring businesses back.

“A big part of this is going into communities and educating them and helping to advocate in order to facilitate change,” Lindau said. “Working with other groups is extremely important as well. We’re not a lone wolf in the nonprofit world — we not only find it important to work with governments and other municipalities — but to connect with other nonprofits who have something unique to offer as well.”

Melanie Cirillo, with the Peconic Land Trust, reiterated the need for local organizations to team up. The Peconic Land Trust conserves open space like wetlands, woodlands and farmland. It keeps an eye on water quality and infrastructure like Forge River in Mastic, which is a natural sea sponge that absorbs storm surge.

“Wetlands are key in so many of our waterfront properties,” she said. “We have a finite amount of drinking water that we need to protect for our own health. The protection of land is integral to the protection of the water.”

She said although every organization may have a bit of a different focus, they’re all working under the same umbrella and premise, with the same goal in mind: maintaining the health of Long Island.

“I think it’s important for groups to have the ability to bring people together, especially because the impact of climate change affects people in a lot of different ways, whether it’s high energy costs, the impact of superstorms like Hurricane Sandy, sea level rise or coastal erosion, or ocean acidification that impacts people’s fishery and economic way of life,” Madden said. “We have to meet the immediate visceral needs of people — of communities and workers — but we also need to be thinking decades ahead on what it will take to decarbonize our entire economic system. It’s really important for groups to be oriented toward that long term focus, because this is an all hands on deck situation.”

This version corrects the spelling of Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program Director Heidi Hutner’s last name.

Port Jefferson is fighting to keep property tax revenue flowing from the power plant and to prevent restrictions from being lifted on peaker unit output. File photo by Lee Lutz

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Village officials and residents, as well as Brookhaven Town officials and Suffolk County legislators, flocked to Port Jefferson Village Hall for two public hearings March 22 to voice opposition of a National Grid petition seeking elimination of restrictions on output of small peaker units located at the Port Jefferson Power Station. Peaker units are additional power generators generally used only when there is high demand for power.

National Grid issued the petition Feb. 28 to the New York State Public Service Commission. The hearing was hosted by the commission and overseen by Administrative Law Judge David Van Ort.

Trustee Bruce Miller speaks at the hearing. Photo by Alex Petroski

Both Village Mayor Margot Garant and Port Jefferson School District Superintendent Paul Casciano at respective board meetings this week called the petition and subsequent hearings “pieces of a larger puzzle” in relation to the eventual fight between the village, the district and the Long Island Power Authority, who is a partner with National Grid in supplying power to the area. The village and district are both part of a pending lawsuit filed in 2015 about LIPA’s assertion they pay too much in property taxes. The power authority reiterated that claim in a Feb. 14 annual report on property tax reduction. Both the village and district receive substantial amounts of revenue from the power authority in the form of ratepayer tax dollars.

National Grid is seeking to eliminate the 79.9-megawatt cap on output on the peaker units and allow for maximum output. According to Van Ort, the company has cited greater efficiency as the reason behind their desire to lift restrictions on output, which were established in 2001.

“We, the people of Port Jefferson, believe that this hearing is a thinly veiled attempt to add extra capacity to the grid,” Village Trustee Bruce Miller said during the hearing. “Peakers are dirty. This expansion plan forecloses the clean air, cost-effective alternative that Port Jefferson offers for Long Island with the repowering of our baseload plants.”

In a letter submitted to the commission by Garant, she stated the village has been pursuing the repowering of existing older steam units in the village for more than 10 years. A spokesperson for National Grid did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and representatives from the company in attendance at the meeting declined to speak on behalf of National Grid.

“We need cleaner, cheaper energy on Long Island now,” Miller said. “We need to take dirty peakers off line and replace them with a modest plant with modern technology.”

Village resident Kathleen Riley also voiced opposition to the proposal.

Residents pack Village Hall for the hearing. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Please be finally advised of our deep concern regarding this entire situation, ultimately and especially because Port Jefferson Village depends upon the revenues of the power plant,” Riley said. “The village’s financial viability relies on this power center.”

Riley also expressed concerns about the environmental impact of increased output from the peaker units.

“[LIPA] makes the argument in part that the Port Jefferson Power Plant is functionally obsolete and should be closed,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said during the hearing. Romaine went on to argue considering the power plant functionally obsolete while simultaneously filing a petition to lift restrictions on peaker units are “contradictory assertions.”

Deputy Mayor and Trustee Larry LaPointe also provided testimony during the hearing.

“They’re increasing their ability to shut down the main plants in Port Jefferson forever, throwing this village under the bus, throwing our schoolchildren under the bus, throwing this community under the bus, throwing our senior citizens under the bus,” LaPointe said. “But of course that doesn’t seem to matter.”

Peaker plants are generally run using natural gas and are less efficient and more expensive to operate than baseload plants, like the Port Jefferson Power Station, which used steam.

Garant was expected to speak at a second hearing March 22 which occurred after the time of print. The commission will continue to take comments from the public until March 28 by email, on the department website or by phone.

A solar farm is still being proposed near the Shoreham nuclear power plant. Currently, there are plans near the Pine Barrens in Mastic for a solar installation. Photo by Kevin Redding

In response to a proposed solar farm in Shoreham, members of the Brookhaven Town Board urge state legislators to not only stand with them in opposition, but grant them “a seat at the table” to have their voices heard and taken seriously.

Since it was first submitted last June, National Grid and NextEra Energy Resources’ proposal to build a large-scale solar energy facility on the wooded property that surrounds the abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant, and clear 350 acres of the 800-acre land made up of cliffs, rolling hills and a variety of wildlife species, has sparked an outpouring of local opposition, from elected officials to environmentalists, civic associations, teachers and parents in the community.

The proposed solar farm in Shoreham could look like the one seen here at Brookhaven National Lab. File photo

Those against it share the belief that “renewable energy is important but not at the expense of another section of the environment.” As recently as Feb. 27, the Shoreham-Wading River school board voted unanimously against endorsing the project, despite a considerable financial offer from National Grid, which owns the Shoreham site, and NextEra.

According to the companies, the proposal, developed in response to a PSEG Long Island request to help New York meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) renewable energy goals, would generate upwards of 72 megawatts of solar energy, provide power for more than 13,000 homes, and create between 125 and 175 construction jobs and millions of dollars in tax benefits.

It’s currently being considered by LIPA, which would purchase the electricity generated by the joint companies for a period of 20 years under the contract, and New York State.

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), a leader in the charge against the solar farm, said he thinks the companies involved are making a mistake, and wants it to be known that Brookhaven is going to do everything it can to prevent it from happening and protect the environment.

In addition to the proposed site falling within Shoreham’s A-10 residential zoning code — the most restrictive in Brookhaven — which was put in place more than 25 years ago to specifically protect the “coastal forest preserve,” he said, the proposal directly violates Brookhaven’s solar code adopted last year that opposes cutting down trees or removing native forests to build solar farms or facilities.

“You can build [solar arrays] on clear land, on rooftops, and in parking lots, but you’re not cutting down trees,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven needs to stay green and we do not need to deforest the few uncut forests we have in this town.”

The proposal by National Grid could clear 350 acres along the Long Island Sound. Photo by Kevin Redding

When Romaine and the rest of the town board first heard rumors of the solar farm plan more than a year ago, they dismissed it, confident local opposition and town zoning would be enough to prevent it from going anywhere.

However, the supervisor got word that National Grid and NextEra could get around the zoning restrictions and potentially strip away any of Brookhaven’s say in the matter under Article X of the Public Service Law — a provision allowing “an applicant seeking approval to site a major electric generating facility to obtain a final decision from the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment, waiving all local zoning requirements, if the Siting Board finds them to be burdensome in terms of technology and costs.”

The Siting Board is composed of five members appointed by the governor.

The town board sprang into action, writing and submitting a letter to nine state senators and assemblymen requesting that the law be amended to allow local municipalities to serve as mandatory parties to the proposed facility “application proceeding.”

“To allow the overriding of local zoning without allowing the local community a significant voice in these proceedings is wrong,” reads the end of the letter, which was signed by Romaine, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge), Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) and Councilman Daniel Panico (R-Center Moriches).

“We understand there’s a need for Article X and we’re not saying you can’t decide against us, but we just feel the locality should have a seat at the table, which would give us a voice,” Romaine said, admitting he decided to write to the legislature to be on the safe side, not knowing if the proposal will get that far. “Right now, we have no voice.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, has previously spoken out against a solar farm in Shoreham. File photo

According to a fact sheet provided by National Grid and NextEra, a poll to determine the attitudes of the residents of the Town of Brookhaven was commissioned, asking what they would like to see developed on the Shoreham property — “they chose ‘solar energy project’ above any other use,” it said. When residents were given information about the solar farm project, the sheet stated “level of support grew to 75 percent.”

Conversely, the proposal is an environmental nightmare as far as Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, is concerned.

“This is just a horrible use of the land,” he said. “It’s not just cutting the trees with the thought that ‘They’ll grow back in 50 years,’ it’s the hills, the gullies, the wildlife, the plants and the fauna that would have to be destroyed. I can see why the owners of the property, National Grid, would like to do this, they can make a bundle of money from it … however the idea of deforesting several hundred acres of very special forest land in order to achieve a worthwhile goal isn’t a good trade-off.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, deemed the proposal a bad idea, stating the Shoreham site is worthy of being preserved as part of our natural history.

“This is a native forest in essentially pristine condition … it’s a museum piece of natural land,” Englebright said. “I am the original New York State legislator who sponsored what are now the laws that enabled solar energy to begin to take off. I’m a pro-solar, pro-renewable energy person … [but] it was never my intent to see environmental atrocities committed in the name of renewable energy. I’m offended, as the father of solar energy in this state, that they are attempting to so thoroughly abuse the premise of what solar is meant to be.”

Port Jefferson is fighting to keep property tax revenue flowing from the power plant and to prevent restrictions from being lifted on peaker unit output. File photo by Lee Lutz

The Port Jefferson school district has climbed aboard a lawsuit against the Long Island Power Authority that challenges the utility’s efforts to reduce its property taxes at North Shore power plants.

LIPA has been working for the last several years to significantly reduce taxes at the aging Port Jefferson and Northport plants, saying the facilities are grossly over-assessed and force the utility to pay more in property taxes than it should. But the school board voted on Nov. 24 to join a lawsuit filed by the Town of Huntington and the Northport-East Northport school district that disputes LIPA’s legal right to file its tax challenges, claiming they are a breach of contract.

That argument stems from a 1997 letter from former LIPA Chairman Richard Kessel, in which Kessel said the utility would not file property tax challenges in the future “on any of their respective properties at any time in the future unless a municipality abusively increases its assessment rate.”

The “respective properties” referenced include the Port Jefferson and Northport power plants, which are owned and operated by energy company National Grid. That company sells the energy it produces to the Long Island utility.

In Port Jefferson, the power plant’s property taxes provide much support to the school district, accounting for almost half of its budget, making the potential loss of that revenue a serious issue for the district.

The Port Jefferson Village government is in a similar position, funding about one-third of its budget with power plant taxes. Smaller stakeholders include the Port Jefferson fire and library districts and the Town of Brookhaven.

In an announcement posted on its website last week, the Port Jefferson school district said, “Our decision to join this lawsuit is a necessary step to protect the resources of our school district and the financial stability of our taxpayers.”

Before the Port Jefferson school district joined the lawsuit, LIPA had filed a motion to dismiss it, but New York State’s highest court denied that motion earlier this year and allowed the case to move forward.

At that time, a LIPA spokesperson said the utility does not comment on ongoing litigation.

After the utility’s motion to dismiss was denied — representing a small victory for those fighting LIPA’s tax challenges — Port Jefferson Village filed a separate lawsuit in September that alleges the same breach of contract as the schools’ lawsuit. Village Attorney Brian Egan requested that court action on LIPA’s tax challenges, which are still pending in the court system, be delayed until the new lawsuits are resolved.

If the plaintiffs win their arguments, the pending tax challenges would be thrown out.

According to Egan, however, the lawsuits are now facing a new motion to dismiss, this time from National Grid.

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