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LIPA

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A utility crew gets to work on Old Post Road in Port Jefferson after a storm wreaked havoc on the area. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Tuesday morning’s storm literally came out of the blue. The skies were clear and calm on Monday and residents were going about their summer, as they should.

Some may have even welcomed the news of pending thunderstorms and rain — we could use the shower. But then it hit.

By the time we woke up Tuesday morning, we were reminded just how fragile our environment is. Trees were in our streets. Traffic lights had gone black. Police were scrambling to make sense of the aftermath of what was a short but intense early-morning storm filled with heavy winds, rain, thunder and, in spots, hail.

We will spend the coming days digging ourselves out, as we always do in the wake of severe weather events. But let’s not just get back to business once the roads are cleared and the traffic lights flicker green, yellow and red once more.

This was a freak weather event. We did not have the courtesy of a week’s warning as we did during storms with names like Irene or Sandy. We did not see this one coming.

And now, we are all paying for it.

We are calling on our elected officials to use this severe storm as a catalyst to catapult environmentally focused legislation and reforms.

For example, we like to talk a lot about moving our power lines underground in order to save them from toppling trees. But the price tag is usually what puts that idea right back into our political pockets, stored away for another day. Well that day is fast approaching.

This summer has already had its fair share of gentle and not-so-gentle reminders that our environment is suffering. In June, we spent weeks discussing the causes and effects of low oxygen levels along our shores that left our waterfronts riddled with dead fish. The tragic event sparked a political debate over the Island’s environmental future but, again, we still await concrete action.

We are also calling on our legislators and our readers to use this storm as a reminder to stay on top of the greenery we all take pride in. Clean up your yards and have your trees routinely inspected and trimmed to ensure they can sustain the kinds of storms that catch us off guard. We can also stock up on nonperishable foods and batteries to ease the panic in a storm’s aftermath. There is always more we can do.

It’s time we come to terms with the notion that significant action is necessary, and is worth the financial investment. One way or another, we will end up paying in the long run. Let’s start paying now instead of the inevitable next time traffic lights go dark.

State appellate court sides with municipalities in rulings

The Northport power plant. File photo

Huntington Town and Northport-East Northport school district’s fight to knock the lights out of a Long Island Power Authority lawsuit that looks to drastically decrease how much the utility pays in taxes on the Northport power plant recently got a big boost.

Last week, a New York State appellate court ruled in favor of the municipalities, clearing the way for both to go to trial against the utility and engage in pretrial depositions and discovery. In 2010, LIPA filed a tax certiorari lawsuit against the town, claiming the town greatly over-assessed the Northport power plant and that it should be paying millions less in taxes.

Northport-East Northport schools, along with Huntington Town, filed companion lawsuits in May 2011 that claimed LIPA didn’t have the right to file to reduce its taxes and that it breached a 1997 contract promising it wouldn’t. In 2013, a New York State Supreme Court justice upheld the district and town’s rights to sue LIPA and National Grid, and last week’s court ruling upheld that lower court ruling.

LIPA sought to have the school district tossed out of the suit, but the district claimed it was a legal third-party beneficiary of a 1997 power supply agreement between LIPA and the Long Island Lighting Company. Last week’s court ruling upheld that claim. It cites a 1997 letter from LIPA to the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, to which Northport-East Northport belongs, that upon the issuance of a 1997 power supply agreement, “LIPA will immediately drop all tax certiorari cases against all municipalities and school districts,” and that “neither LIPA nor LILCO will initiate any further tax certiorari cases on any of their respective properties at any time in the future unless a municipality abusively increases its assessment rate,” as “spelled out in the [PSA].”

Stuart Besen, the town’s attorney on the case, said he believes the letter from Richard Kessel, former chairman of LIPA, was integral in swaying the judges to rule in favor of the municipalities.

“I just think that Supervisor [Frank] Petrone really deserves a lot of credit for having the foresight for one, making sure the clause was in the [power supply agreement], and two, demanding that Richard Kessel reiterate that position in a letter.”

If successful in the suit, the town wouldn’t have to pay approximately $180 million in taxes the utility claims it overpaid in a three-year period, Besen said. LIPA pays roughly $70 million in taxes on the Northport power plant, town officials have said.

The utility contends the plant is worth less than 11 percent of the value reflected by its current assessment. If LIPA was successful in lowering its assessment and thus the amount it pays in taxes, town residents could be hit with tax increases of up to 10 percent. Those who live in the Northport-East Northport school and library districts could get a whopping 50 percent increase in their taxes.

John Gross, senior managing partner at Ingerman Smith, who represents the school district in the case, said the next step is to move forward with discovery and a motion for summary judgment in favor of the district.

“And if we win that, that means the claims they made to reduce the value of the plant are thrown out,” Gross said in an interview on Tuesday.

The town and the school district are partners in the lawsuit, Gross said.

Asked what town taxpayers should take away from the development, Besen said “that the town is fighting.”

“The town is fighting a big entity, both National Grid and LIPA. But we feel we’re right. We feel that those three years we don’t have to pay, that LIPA and National Grid made a promise to the people of Huntington and the town is going to do everything possible legally to uphold that promise.”

Sid Nathan, a spokesman for LIPA, said the authority couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

Photo by Bruce Miller

About a dozen protesters, including civic leaders and environmentalists, picketed on July 10 against Caithness Long Island’s proposal to build its second power plant in Yaphank, a 750-megawatt facility.

Port Jefferson Village Trustee Bruce Miller, also the head of the local Grassroots Committee to Repower Port Jefferson, snapped this picture of Long Islander Andrea Barracca during the protest.

Some oppose the Caithness plant for environmental reasons, and the Grassroots Committee wants the Port Jefferson power plant upgraded instead, to keep it a source of local energy and tax revenue.

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Hurricanes have caused power outages in recent years. File photo

With several emergency services packed into a small area, Port Jefferson Village officials hope to secure a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority toward building a local backup energy grid to be used in case of a crisis.

The village applied for the NYSERDA grant to build the backup grid, known as a microgrid, through a statewide competition because of the critical community services that cannot stop functioning during a power outage, Mayor Margot Garant said.

“During a severe weather event such as we had with [hurricanes] Irene and Sandy, where the hospitals lost power and some of us lost power — some up to 14 days, [and the] hospitals were out eight to 10 days — those … patients that were on critical care services were put in harm’s way,” Garant said at the village board of trustees meeting Monday night. “So basically if we have a microgrid during those severe weather systems … where the overall grid goes down, we flick a switch and keep our critical services online.”

Microgrids are independent of the regional grid and rely on their own power-generating resources. NYSERDA may award up to $40 million total to help communities around New York State build those microgrids.

Port Jefferson Village is not the only municipality on Long Island applying for a slice of the pie. Huntington Town officials recently agreed to pursue the grant funding for their own microgrid, to support buildings like Huntington Hospital and the town’s wastewater treatment plant. And a month ago, NYSERDA awarded the first five grants — $100,000 each — to communities from Buffalo to East Hampton, so the applicants could perform feasibility studies on their projects.

NYSERDA expects to announce the next round of grant winners soon.

“We have two major hospitals, a ferry, a railroad station, our own school district, a village hall, a wastewater treatment facility, a groundwater treatment facility, an ambulance company,” Garant said. “We have a lot of emergency services-related components within a very small radius.”

Port Jefferson is listed on the NYSERDA website as one of five “opportunity zones” on Long Island where microgrids might reduce strain on the regional utility system and have other positive benefits. The other zones are Long Beach, Montauk, Hewlett Bay and Inwood. Statewide, there are eight other regions that have their own opportunity zones.

With a $100,000 grant, the village would work with consultants and local stakeholders, like the fire department, to research the Port Jefferson project. In choosing which projects to award grants to, NYSERDA is using criteria such as the area’s level of vulnerability to outages, how a microgrid would improve community function and the possible effect on ratepayers.

Although power generation and distribution in the United States used to operate at a more local level, the grids have become more regional over time to make the utilities more cost-effective and reliable, according to NYSERDA’s website.

“These systems are, however, vulnerable to outages that can impact large regions and thousands of businesses and citizens, particularly as a consequence of extreme, destructive weather events,” the website said. “Microgrids could help minimize the impact of these outages by localizing power generation, distribution and consumption so that a fallen tree or downed wire will not interrupt critical services for miles around.”

Projects awarded the $100,000 grants to perform feasibility studies will later be eligible to apply for more funding under the NYSERDA program, to advance the microgrid construction efforts.

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

A clerical item on the Brookhaven Town Board’s agenda regarding Caithness Long Island II, a proposed Yaphank power plant, caused a stir among some Port Jefferson residents on Thursday, as they questioned what exactly the board was voting on.

Earlier in the week, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) predicted the issue at a Monday work session meeting. The item — accepting documentation about covenants and restrictions at the project site — was included under the board’s Communication Consensus agenda. Romaine said the town received correspondence that the information was filed with the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, and the board had to vote to accept it. He added that the Town Board was not trying to sneak anything by residents.

“We have to list correspondence that we receive,” he said Monday.

Last July, the Town Board granted Caithness Long Island II a special permit for its proposed 752-megawatt power plant. Romaine and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) remained in the minority and voted against the permit.

Some Port Jefferson residents adamantly oppose the project, as they fear it could negatively impact the chances of the Port Jefferson power plant being upgraded. Critics allege the Caithness project’s environmental impact statement was flawed and didn’t adequately address impacts on the surrounding communities and species living near the property, which is adjacent to an existing 350-megawatt Caithness power plant.

At Thursday’s meeting, standing together in the minority as they did on the special permit vote, Cartright and Romaine voted against accepting the Caithness communication. Cartright said the project should be re-evaluated, as PSEG Long Island has stated there will be sufficient local energy capacity until about 2020, and thus there is no need for Caithness II.

“In light of that fact, it appears to me that the [environmental review] process was based on an erroneous premise, as the original … findings for this project were in part based on an additional need of power,” she said.

During public comment, Port Jefferson Village Trustee Bruce Miller expressed his frustration with the Town Board granting the special use permit and with how backup documents, which officials said are available at the town and county clerk’s offices, weren’t provided with Thursday’s agenda.

Miller said he sympathized with Medford residents, some of whom attended the same meeting to advocate against a proposed casino in their neighborhood.

“Only two people on this board are voted for by the people from Port Jefferson,” he said, referring to the supervisor and the councilwoman, “and yet the rest of the board members can vote with impunity against us and against our interests.”

File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town is exploring how to stay on while the power isn’t.

The town board voted last week to apply to the New York State Energy Research and Development for a $100,000 grant that would explore the feasibility of creating a community microgrid energy system that would link up Huntington Town Hall, the Village Green senior center and the Huntington Sewer District wastewater treatment plant.

The town will spend $7,750 to hire technical consultant TRC, based in New York, to assist in preparing the grant application by the May 15 deadline. Huntington Hospital and the Huntington YMCA could also be potentially added to the microgrid, the town board resolution said.

Microgrids are essentially self-sustaining, small electric grids with their own generation resources and internal loads that may or may not be connected to the larger electric utility macrogrid, NYSERDA’s overview of the grant program said. NYSERDA, in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, said it plans to award up to $40 million under the three-stage NY Prize Community Grid Competition to support the development of community microgrids throughout the state.

“When a widespread power outage affects the town, it is important that electricity be restored to sites that provide vital emergency services,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), who spearheaded the measure, said in a statement. “Creating a microgrid linking Town Hall, the Village Green Senior Center, the Huntington wastewater treatment plant, Huntington Hospital and the YMCA could help to restore electric service to those locations more quickly. The concept certainly merits a feasibility study, which is why the town is applying for this grant.”

Electric power in the U.S., including generation and distribution systems, used to operate on a smaller scale, but over time, regional utilities were developed to deliver cost-effective and reliable water, heat, power, fuel and communications over broader distances, according to a summary of the program on NYSERDA’s website.

“These systems are, however, vulnerable to outages that can impact large regions and thousands of businesses and citizens, particularly as a consequence of extreme, destructive weather events,” the summary said. “Microgrids could help minimize the impact of these outages by localizing power generation, distribution, and consumption so that a fallen tree or downed wire will not interrupt critical services for miles around.”

During Hurricane Sandy, Huntington Town Hall lost power, town spokesman A.J. Carter said, but officials were able to get the building back running via a generator. Getting on a microgrid, he said, could help Huntington’s most crucial facilities get online faster during outages.

“Theoretically it would allow the utility to target this grid first because of its emergency nature,” Carter said.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), who seconded the resolution offered by Supervisor Frank Petrone, said the town’s response to Hurricane Sandy power outages was good, but the microgrid is still worth exploring.

“If we could explore the idea of being on our own grid that’s something we should absolutely look into,” she said. “The exploration and the alternate conversion are obviously two different things, because you’d have to see what it would entail and whether it’s doable.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilwoman Jane Bonner speak against PSEG Long Island's proposed rate increase. Photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven officials announced Thursday that the town is seeking permission from the New York State Public Service Commission to intervene on PSEG Long Island’s pending application to the commission for a rate increase.

At a press conference, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and councilmembers Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) expressed their concerns about the increase in the delivery charge portion of customers’ bills — a nearly 4 percent bump each year for three years — set to kick in next year. The officials said they believe PSEG Long Island hasn’t adequately justified the increase, which would have a “devastating impact,” on Long Island residents.

“We want to make sure that our voices are heard — the ratepayers in Brookhaven Town are heard,” Romaine said.

By legally intervening, according to attorney Rob Calica, of Garden City-based law firm Rosenberg Calica & Birney LLP, town officials would have access to filings and documents that are otherwise not public.

“If the town doesn’t intervene, it’s a commenter,” said Calica, who the town retained to handle the matter. “The comment period is closed. If the town doesn’t intervene, the records that are unavailable for public review remain unavailable. If the town intervenes, it elevates its status from commenter to a party.”

The utility stated in its proposal that it would invest in maintaining and modernizing the electric system; enhancing technology for managing customer accounts; improving infrastructure to better prepare for and respond to storms; and improving system reliability.

The town joins Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., who asked to act as an intervener in an April 10 letter to the New York State Department of Public Service, the department which contains the commission.

According to PSEG Long Island’s application, the three-year increase will amount to an approximate $221 million increase in revenues.

In his letter, Kennedy called it questionable to give “that excessive amount of money” to a “quasi-governmental entity that is supposed to be a leader in management performance, yet decides to increase the average residential customer’s bills when its own employees live and work on Long Island.”

This is the first time in more than 20 years that Long Island’s utility provider has had to submit a rate plan to the Department of Public Service, as required by the LIPA Reform Act of 2013, which also put the Long Island Power Authority under the management of private company PSEG Long Island. The department assigned administrative law judges to hear the case, on which Long Island residents commented at public hearings held throughout March.

Brookhaven officials and Kennedy said they also took issue with the fact that the utility’s proposed increase does not have to follow any cap that other public institutions, like governments and school districts, have to abide by, referring to the state’s tax levy increase cap. Romaine said PSEG Long Island should have to comply with and be held to higher standards.

“They are a public authority no different than the Town of Brookhaven,” he said.

In an email, Jeff Weir, PSEG Long Island’s director of communications, said the organization is proud to have the most transparent rate proceeding that local customers have ever seen.

“We believe the modest increase that we are seeking in our filing will allow us to continue to create a more resilient, modern and customer-responsive electric utility,” Weir stated. “We welcome the opportunity to continue to have constructive, open dialogue regarding our request.”

Projects will launch in Huntington Town next week

File photo by Arlene Gross

Crews from PSEG Long Island are expected to launch an eight-month-long project in Huntington Town on Monday in an effort to strengthen the electric grid across Long Island.

Work on the project will follow a three-mile route along an electric line circuit in Huntington, Huntington Station and Cold Spring Harbor, according to a PSEG Long Island statement. The project will be funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a federal program that coordinates responses to national disasters.

The more than $729 million for the project were secured for the Long Island Power Authority through an agreement last year between Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and FEMA through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistant Program.

The project will replace existing wire with more weather-resistant wire, install new and durable poles in several locations, and install or replace switching equipment to help reduce the number of customers affected by power outages.

“We are committed to making our transmission and distribution system more resilient, able to better withstand extreme weather events,” David Daly, PSEG Long Island’s president and chief operating officer said in a press release. “Superstorm Sandy has had a lasting impact on our customers, and the recovery and healing is still ongoing.”

The project is expected to implement reinforcements that will help the system in future storms. After Hurricane Sandy, people across Long Island were without power for upward of 10 days. Both Hurricane Sandy and the winter storm that followed in 2013 severely impacted the transmission and distribution system operations, a representative of PSEG Long Island said.

Work on the system will start on or about April 6, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. While there is the potential for some road closures along the route, PSEG has not said when and where they will be.

Trees that grow near power lines will be trimmed, as they pose a safety risk and increase the chance of power outages. New poles will also be approximately the same height as existing poles but will have a stronger base and be situated a few feet from the current pole.

“After Sandy, we know firsthand how important it is to invest in the infrastructure to fortify it to withstand extreme conditions,” Jon Kaiman, special advisor to Cuomo for storm recovery and chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority said in a press release.

To see a complete list of the project route visit https://www.psegliny.com.

The smokestacks of the Port Jefferson power plant loom over the village and the local harbor. File photo by Erika Karp

The Long Island Power Authority must study the area’s aging power plants with an eye toward upgrading the facilities, according to a provision of the next New York State budget.

Language that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and state legislators have agreed upon requires the utility to “perform an engineering, environmental … and cost feasibility analysis and study” of upgrading — also known as repowering — the plants in Port Jefferson, Northport and Island Park. The focus will be on using more efficient and environmentally friendly technology at the plants.

Those three sites have been on shaky ground because they are old and using outdated technology. The Port Jefferson and Northport host communities have feared losing essential property taxes from the plants, which would happen if the plants were to reach the ends of their useful lives without being repowered.

“We are extremely proud that our representatives and our lobbying efforts are working toward a repowered plant in [Port Jefferson],” village Mayor Margot Garant said in an email. “We always believed this was the best repurposing of our site, and in the best interest of the ratepayers of [Long Island].”

The utility must begin studying Port Jefferson and Island Park no later than Oct. 1, and must start working on the second study in Northport by October 2018, according to the budget language. The studies must be completed and presented to the LIPA board of trustees and the department of public service no longer than 18 months after they begin.

LIPA will repower the plants if it determines, based on the studies, “that repowering any such generating facility is in the best interests of its ratepayers and will enhance the authority’s ability to provide a more efficient, reliable and economical supply of electric energy in its service territory, consistent with the goal of improving environmental quality.”

Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport) said the studies “could change the whole tax certiorari issue.”

Huntington Town and the Northport-East Northport school district have been battling LIPA over the value of that property, with the utility arguing the plant is grossly overassessed and filing to be reimbursed for taxes overpaid as a result. Town Supervisor Frank Petrone has extended an offer to LIPA to freeze its tax assessment if it repowers Northport.

“Northport and East Northport are looking down the barrel of a gun,” Raia said Tuesday, “and if they repowered Northport that whole case would go away.”

Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said in a statement that the study requirement will be included in the state budget “since LIPA did not follow through on their [previous] promises” to complete economic feasibility studies on the aging plants.

PSEG Long Island, the private utility that has taken over management of LIPA, was on board with the repowering studies this week.

“After careful study last year, we determined that there was no need for additional generation on Long Island until, at least, 2024,” PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeff Weir said in an email. “We wholeheartedly embrace this process because all we want is to implement the lowest cost and most reliable solutions for our customers on Long Island and in the Rockaways.”

Rohma Abbas contributed reporting.

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