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.
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.
“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.