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Grid

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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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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.”