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Power

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

Port Jefferson Village moved another chess piece in its match against the Long Island Power Authority last week, filing a lawsuit to dispute the utility’s property tax challenges from the last few years, which are still pending in court.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said at the board of trustees meeting Tuesday night that the village filed the lawsuit last Friday contending LIPA had promised not to challenge its property tax assessment at the Port Jefferson power plant unless the assessment was disproportionately increased.

That perceived promise links back to a 1997 letter from former LIPA chairman Richard Kessel, upon inking a power supply agreement between LIPA and the Long Island Lighting Company, as the former was taking over for the latter. That agreement covered power plants now owned and operated by energy company National Grid, which includes those in Port Jefferson and Northport.

Back then LIPA and local municipalities were embroiled in other tax assessment challenges. Kessel’s letter said the utility would drop those challenges and would not “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.”

Port Jefferson has actually gone in the opposite direction on the neighborhood power plant’s assessment, officials confirmed Tuesday — LIPA’s assessment was only proportionately increased over time, and since it began challenging its assessment in 2010, it has in fact seen a decrease. Officials called that 10 percent decrease an act of good faith as they negotiated with the utility on the matter.

At the heart of the issue is a disagreement over the worth of the local power plant: LIPA contends it is grossly overassessed, forcing the utility to pay more in property taxes than it should.

The power plant is a large source of tax revenue for the area, particularly the Port Jefferson school district and the village. Smaller stakeholders include the Port Jefferson fire and library districts and the Town of Brookhaven.

As LIPA’s property tax challenges trickle through the court system, Port Jefferson’s latest lawsuit piggybacks on an idea from out west — Huntington Town and the Northport-East Northport school district filed a similar suit a couple of years ago in their battle on the Northport power plant, which mirrors the situation in Port Jefferson. That inceptive lawsuit, challenging LIPA’s ability to challenge its property tax assessment, faced a motion to dismiss that New York State’s highest court recently denied — allowing the case to play out. Seeing the ruling in favor of Huntington and Northport, Port Jefferson followed suit.

“I feel very strong,” Egan said about the case.

According to the village attorney, he will ask that court action on LIPA’s tax challenges be delayed until the new lawsuit is resolved.

The Port Jefferson and Huntington area lawsuits may also be joined, and it is possible more plaintiffs, such as Brookhaven Town and the Port Jefferson school district, could jump in.

At the time the courts denied LIPA’s motion to dismiss Huntington Town and the Northport school district’s lawsuit, a LIPA spokesperson said the utility does not comment on ongoing litigation.

If the municipalities win their lawsuits regarding LIPA’s right to challenge its property tax assessments, those pending challenges would be thrown out.

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Downed trees were a common sight along Route 25A in the Setauket- East Setauket and Stony Brook areas. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The winds have subsided, but Setauket and Stony Brook still have a lot of debris to clean up since last week’s brutal storm sent the North Shore for a spin.

An early morning windstorm made its way through the area early last Tuesday morning, toppling trees and downing power lines. The electricity has since been restored, a spokesman for PSEG Long Island said, and the utility has been providing more than 600 workers to ensure all temporary repairs are made permanent. Most roads have been cleared of fallen trees, and the town has been moving nearly 1,000 cubic yards of material a day amid cleanup efforts.

But there is still a ways to go.

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said it could take another two to three weeks for Setauket and Stony Brook to be declared 100 percent passable. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Losquadro said his team buddied up with utility PSEG to help remove trees from roadways while grappling with fallen utility poles and electric wires. Now, he said it’s all about following through on the stragglers.

“This week, we’ve been bringing crews in an hour early each day to continue the debris removal process,” he said in a phone interview this week. “While we have shifted skeleton crews back out to their respective districts, a vast majority of my assets are still deployed in this area doing debris removal.”

Losquadro said the trucks were moving quickly to remove debris and bring it to his department’s Setauket yard to be handled. And he credited a big chunk of his team’s efficiency since the winds came barreling through on his emergency management preparedness.

“We had a plan set up with [the] waste management [department] that they would move their big grinder — the one at the Brookhaven landfill — to an area where we would stage material out of,” he said. “Now, we only have to handle the materials once.”

In prior storms, Losquadro said the town moved waste materials two to three times before they hit a landfill, which slowed down the recovery process and ended up costing more money. But the new plan has made cleaning up more efficient.

On a financial note, Losquadro said the storm will undoubtedly put a dent in his overall budget but his team would remain vigilant in tracking all costs and seeking reimbursement from the state, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, when the recovery efforts conclude.

“It will be a significant number,” he said. “There’s no two ways about it. It’s a fact that that area was hit harder by this storm than it was hit by [Hurricane] Sandy.”

The highway superintendent said the hardest-hit areas in Setauket and Stony Brook should be able to fully put the storm behind them in a matter of two weeks or so.

“The fact that this was a localized event did allow me to pour many more assets into a smaller area to get the recovery done faster,” he said. “It also allowed PSEG to do the same thing. I, myself, could not be happier with the organization of my operation.”

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.

The Northport power plant. File photo

A new Huntington Town citizens group will boost a movement to upgrade the Northport power plant, independently studying the issue and submitting ideas to town officials.

The town board, on Tuesday, unanimously supported a measure co-sponsored by Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) to create the Repower Now Citizens Committee, a group of nine who will weigh in on an analysis the Long Island Power Authority and National Grid are conducting with respect to repowering, or upgrading, the plant.

Earlier this year, the state charged LIPA and National Grid with studying the feasibility of repowering the Northport power plant, the Port Jefferson power plant and others. Having the Repower Now Citizens Committee can only boost that effort, Cuthbertson and Petrone said in interviews with reporters after Tuesday’s meeting.

Local leaders want to see the aging Northport plant repowered so it will remain a source of energy and property tax revenue for years to come. Several local budgets, including that of the Northport-East Northport school district, rely heavily on the tax revenue.

Upgrading the Northport power plant can be done, Petrone said. It will be the new group’s responsibility to support repowering by producing a factual analysis on the issue.

“Our plant is probably the most viable plant to be utilized for that,” Petrone said, explaining Northport’s advantages in being repowered. “It has property available and it can be expanded. The need now is to put together a group to basically put some kind of study together … to support this. And there are many people out there that have expertise that we would wish to tap.”

Membership would include at least one person each from Northport and Asharoken villages, someone from the Northport-East Northport school district and members with engineering and sustainable energy backgrounds.

Repowering has another benefit: It may help settle a lawsuit LIPA brought against the town, challenging it over the value of the power plant.

LIPA claims the plant has been grossly over-assessed and the utility has overpaid taxes to the town. If LIPA’s suit is successful, the judgment could translate into double-digit tax increases for other Huntington Town and Northport-East Northport school district taxpayers.

If, however, the utility chooses to repower by upgrading the facility, the town has offered to keep its assessment flat, preventing those skyrocketing taxes.

“It’s a lawsuit that’s a very, very high-stakes lawsuit,” Cuthbertson told reporters after the meeting. “We have to look at both legal and political solutions, and political being through legislation. This is a part of trying to formulate a legislative solution and come up with a compromise that we might be able to work through.”

Petrone said he hopes to have the repowering citizens group assembled within a month.

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Hurricanes have caused power outages in recent years. File photo

Port Jefferson Village will study its own potential in hooking up the community to a backup energy grid, thanks to a $100,000 grant it won last week.

The governor recently announced that several dozen communities across New York, including Port Jefferson, were awarded grants through a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority competition to perform feasibility studies on building the backup grids, known as microgrids.

Microgrids are independent of the regional grid and rely on their own power-generating resources — and thus can keep communities going during power outages. According to the governor’s office, the grids “would integrate renewable power with other advanced energy technologies to create a cleaner, more affordable and more resilient localized energy grid for a limited number of users.”

Port Jefferson Village officials began exploring the idea earlier this year because the area has several critical community and emergency services packed into a small area, and those services cannot stop when an event like a hurricane or a snowstorm knocks out power.

“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,” Mayor Margot Garant said during a previous village board meeting. “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.”

The $100,000 the village won was in the first stage of grants through NYSERDA’s microgrid funding competition. After Port Jefferson works with consultants and local stakeholders, such as the fire department, over the coming months to research its project proposal from technical, operational and financial standpoints, it may apply for more funding to advance microgrid construction efforts.

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.

“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 not the only local government working toward microgrid grant money. The Town of Brookhaven and the Town of Huntington were also awarded $100,000 grants to perform studies on their own proposed projects — Brookhaven Town, with help from Brookhaven National Laboratory, is seeking to put in a grid to support Town Hall as an emergency operations center and two nearby Sachem schools as emergency shelters; Huntington Town wants to build a backup grid for their own Town Hall, Huntington Hospital, the local wastewater treatment plant and community centers.

Between Nassau and Suffolk counties, NYSERDA awarded grants to 14 projects.

Power generation and distribution in the U.S. used to operate at a local level, but grids became more regional over time to make 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.”

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.

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.”

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