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Port Jefferson Power Plant

The Port Jefferson Civic Association meets inside the Port Jefferson Free Library on April 8. Photo by Samantha Rutt

By Samantha Rutt

At the Monday, April 8, Port Jefferson civic meeting, residents congregated to tackle one of the community’s most pressing issues: the fate of the Port Jefferson power plant. As the world pivots toward renewable energy and sustainable practices, the discussion revolved around embracing new energy sources while addressing the environmental and financial concerns associated with the current plant.

Xena Ugrinsky, a member of the Village of Port Jefferson Budget and Finance Committee, urged the need for a collective community conversation stating, “Everything is in motion. All we can do is ensure that we’re a part of the conversation and do our best to guide them to the right decisions.”

The conversation highlighted two essential work streams: Exploring new energy possibilities and navigating the political landscape in order to best incorporate the voice of the civic and community more broadly. Residents recognized the political sensitivity surrounding the issue and emphasized the importance of engaging local leaders to facilitate meaningful dialogue and action.

Ugrinsky and other affiliates have organized a committee to gather thoughts, concerns and invite further conversation on this issue.

“This is kind of a second run at this problem,” Ugrinsky remarked about the formation of the committee. “We’re going to do a bunch of research and we’re going to engage all the stakeholders. We’re not solutioning — we’re trying to gather the data, create a common conversation about what’s going to happen to the power plant and ensure that Port Jeff village has a voice in that conversation.”

“We’ve got the right people on board and we’re gathering more people. If you know of anybody who has either the background or the willingness to roll up their sleeves and participate let me know and we’ll get them engaged,” Ugrinsky said of the committee. “Our charter is to explore forward-looking and innovative possibilities for the future of the power plant, be a catalyst for positive change, while fostering a transparent and inclusive decision-making process.”

During the previous civic meeting, on March 11, Bob Nicols, a resident, shed light on the financial implications, emphasizing the need for strategic decision-making. With potential tax increases looming, residents expressed concerns about the economic impact on the community and the desirability of living in Port Jefferson.

As discussions delved deeper, the focus shifted toward finding productive solutions that align with the community’s values. In conversation, residents explored the possibility of repurposing the existing infrastructure to support new energy endeavors, such as hydrogen or battery storage, thereby maintaining the plant’s value to the community.

The urgency of the matter was brought to light by the recognition that delaying action could lead to missed opportunities and increased financial burdens. As Ugrinsky remarked, “If we don’t do this now, 20 years from now, tons of places will have done it, and we’ll think, ‘You should have done something about that when you had the opportunity.’”

The meeting also served as a platform to address broader community concerns, such as waste collection costs and upcoming events like the village’s first Arbor Day celebration. 

The Arbor Day event will take place on Wednesday, April 24, at 5 p.m. in the parking lot behind Old Fields, Billie’s and The Pie where county Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R) will hold ceremonial plantings of two trees.

Looking ahead, the path forward for Port Jefferson’s power plant remains uncertain, but the commitment to engagement and collaboration remains. At the next meeting, the civic plans to invite candidates for the Port Jefferson school board. 

“The next meeting will be May 13 and we hope that we will be able to invite the school board candidates to come and present their platforms, and have a discussion about their vision for their role,” said civic President Ana Hozyainova.

(Left to right) Trustee Rebecca Kassay, Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden, Mayor Margot Garant, Trustee Stan Loucks and Trustee-elect Lauren Sheprow. Right photo courtesy Sheprow, all others from the Port Jefferson Village website

The Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees will undergo a major shakeup next week as Bruce Miller leaves the board.

Miller, who has served since 2014, was unseated in last week’s village election after an unsuccessful bid for a fifth term. His seat will be filled by Lauren Sheprow. 

Bruce Miller, above, leaves office next week after eight years on the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees.
Photo from village website

As Miller transitions out of village government, his colleagues weighed in on his legacy of service to the village. In a series of emailed statements, Mayor Margot Garant and trustees took the opportunity to describe their many takeaways from Miller’s time in office. 

The mayor, under whose administration Miller served during the entirety of his tenure as a trustee, highlighted several initiatives Miller had championed through the village government.

“Bruce’s vision for a better Port Jefferson brought us to the table on many big issues, including the repowering of our power plant, getting a better ride on the Long Island Rail Road, and reducing energy costs for those who live both in Port Jefferson and beyond,” Garant said. “He should be commended on every level for his selfless contribution, and I wish him all the best in his retirement years ahead, spending many more days visiting his daughter and doing the things he loves.”

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden praised Miller for the innovative ideas and problem-solving skills that he brought to the village board. According to her, his creative approach is best illustrated by his taste in architecture.

“My first memory of Bruce was with his work on the Architectural Review Committee and his ideas on Victorian-style exterior design,” she said. “He always brought an interesting perspective to issues and it’s been a pleasure working with him. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Trustee Stan Loucks, who has also served alongside Miller for eight years, emphasized that Miller’s service to the community long predates his time as trustee.

“It should be obvious to everyone that Bruce Miller has been, and still is, dedicated to servicing the village of Port Jefferson,” Loucks said. “His many years on the school board and the eight years he served as a trustee are proof of that.” He added, “There is a saying, ‘All good things come to an end.’ I feel that Bruce was one of those good things. I wish him the best going forward — good health and happiness.”

Trustee Rebecca Kassay, who will remain on the board for another term, also acknowledged Miller’s contributions to the school district. She added that she hopes to continue to tap into Miller’s wealth of experience moving forward.

“Trustee Miller has garnered invaluable institutional knowledge from his years of service, not only on the Board of Trustees, but also from his years on the board of education,” she said. “I appreciate his perspectives and look forward to continuing a dialogue with him to help inform future village decisions.”

Sheprow commented on the lessons she takes away from her predecessor’s decades of public service in and around the village. 

“Bruce Miller has been contributing time and talent to the Village of Port Jefferson — and before that to the Port Jefferson School District — for close to two decades,” the trustee-elect said, adding, “He deserves a great deal of respect for all he has contributed and I applaud him for his dedication. He is a role model for public service to be emulated in the Village of Port Jefferson and I hope others will follow in his footsteps and get involved as he has for the betterment of this community.”

Sheprow will be seated officially after a formal swearing-in ceremony held on Monday, July 4, at Village Hall. This will conclude Miller’s eight-year tenure on the village board. 

To read about Miller’s biggest takeaway from his time in office, see the TBR News Media June 30 story, “A legacy of service: Bruce Miller reflects upon his tenure as Port Jeff Village trustee.”

Port Jeff village trustee on his role in tackling the big projects

Trustee Bruce Miller (right) being sworn into office. Photo courtesy of Miller

By Raymond Janis

Village of Port Jefferson trustee Bruce Miller has taken on several big projects throughout his time in office. 

TBR News Media had an opportunity this week to catch up with him for an exclusive interview. In this interview, Miller addresses his background in education, the East Beach bluff, his preference for architecture and more. 

What is your background and why did you get involved in local government?

I was always a believer in public service. I got that from my parents, who also felt the value of contributing. I was drafted into the Army in ’66 and left as a sergeant with honorable discharge. I am a 2nd vice commander of the American Legion post in Port Jefferson Station. 

I got an excellent education from Stony Brook University. From there, I became a public school teacher in special education. While I was doing this, I also volunteered at my daughter’s school. I was on the [Port Jefferson] school board for 12 years, a president, vice president, and a budget and technology chairperson. 

I was a teacher that understood board politics and the requirements of training teachers. I was the driving force in moving the district from what I would consider mediocre in this region to a nationally ranked school district. We achieved a level of 34th in the nation, according to a Washington Post survey, and this drove up our real estate values. We were number one for several years in New York state with real estate appreciation and one year we were near 10th in the nation. And this is not me saying this, but The New York Times saying this. I had a very successful run during my 12 years on the school board.

I have been working for about 30 years on the conservation and advisory committee. I was for a while the trustee liaison to that committee. It used to be a board and I would like to see that happen again.

There’s a lot more, but maybe I can speak to them through some specific questions. 

Miller receives a regional Scope award for educational excellence during his tenure as a school board member.
Photo courtesy of Miller

How has your background as an educator shaped your approach as village trustee?

There are two aspects to my educational background: my teaching background and my school board background. As a teacher, I was a public servant and of course the village board is a public office. In teaching, you know there are budgets to deal with and priorities to be set. As a school board member, again you’re dealing with budgets. I dealt a lot with technology, doing what I thought was forward looking and I found that I could better express myself in bringing excellent technology to the school district in Port Jefferson.

Because of my educational background, and by working hard in this effort, we brought really excellent education and technology to the district. Budgets are another aspect. You have to be able to fund these things, and in a public forum you need to be able to get support from the public. You need to be able to persuade people that you have a vision, whether it’s in the school district or the village.

What are the most critical issues facing the village?

Critical has a number of meanings, one of which is that something is happening now and you have to do something about it. In that context, something is happening now: Our [East Beach] bluff is eroding and we have to do something about it. 

We can either let the country club slide into the Long Island Sound or we can take measures to remediate. You have the country club above and the beach below. I voted for a rock wall that would preserve the beach and access to the beach. There is another, larger plan that we are still looking at that involves driving steel sheeting in front of the country club. We’re within literally a couple of feet of losing the tennis courts and they are going. New plans have to be made for them. 

The question is do you go for the steel sheeting or do you let nature take its course? I’m not decided on that at this point. One of the things I respect about the village is that we have a lot of intelligent people who bring a lot of knowledge and background. In the few discussions we’ve had over Zoom, there were suggestions that were very positive that were an alternative to the steel sheeting suggestion. 

I have been emailing the board for a very long time regarding the fact that a) we should have a public hearing on this, which is not going to happen; and b) that we should be permitting the residents to vote on a bond. We’re talking about $10 million total on this project and they should decide what they want and we should be listening to all the viewpoints. We should be more open and transparent in terms of solutions and alternatives. 

We’re also losing revenue on the power plant. Over a number of years, we’re going to lose 47% of the revenue and we’re more than halfway through that process. Obviously, the businesspeople are going to see more in taxes because we’re receiving less from an alternate source. In my opinion, we need to rebuild with quality, so that you have a magnet for Port Jefferson, for the business community. 

A lot of people come to Port Jefferson because it’s different. It’s a real village with a history and people like that. We should be emphasizing that history. We also need to focus on green energy. We need to do as much as we can. By doing this, bring more revenue into the village, the school district, the fire department, the library, etc. 

How would you like to preserve what you call the New England heritage within the village?

Miller at Village Hall in Port Jefferson. File photo

We’re already doing some of that. We have what we call the Roe House, which is on Barnum Avenue. This is from the Roe family. It’s an authentic, prerevolutionary, colonial structure. We have a number of exhibits within the Roe House that point to our history. 

We often call it the Setauket Spy Ring, but Port Jefferson was also part of this history, the Roes are a part of this history. We have this heritage, it’s important, and we are emphasizing it. We’re going to see an upgrade in the status of the building. It now has a historic designation and we’re going to see more of that. 

How has the village changed from the time you took office and what measures have you taken to guide those changes?

There’s been an awful lot of change in regards to uptown development. When I first came into office, this was in the project stage. Now we’re seeing stuff rising above the ground and a number of properties that are either approved or well along in the approval process. There’s a former fish restaurant [PJ Lobster House] on North Country Road and 25A. The restaurant has moved downtown and they’re beginning the demolition phase. 

We’ve seen a project on Texaco Avenue that has been completed, two other projects at the foot of Main and Broadway completed. Another project where a former carpet store, Cappy’s Carpets, used to be has been completed and occupied.

There are a lot of problems with flooding in Port Jefferson, a lot of hills. Everything runs down into the lower Port area. I’ve been talking about mixed surfaces, not just hard pavement, which contribute to the velocity of the water. We’re making some progress with that by having water gardens. 

We have developed our parks, which I think are very attractive. We have a Dickens Festival that draws people into the village, which of course the merchants love. It’s really an excellent festival, voted best festival on Long Island several times. Every year it gets a little better. 

When I was in the school district, the motto was: “Excellent at getting better.” I want to achieve that and live up to that. When I’m in the village, I want to see excellence. I have had battles over architecture. I want it to be excellent, to improve the village, and to attract more people to the village. 

When I was in the school district, the motto was: “Excellent at getting better.” I want to achieve that and live up to that. — Bruce Miller

You have an upcoming meeting with representatives of the Long Island Rail Road. Could you preview that meeting?

It’s about a vision, about looking at a need, seeing an alternative to the present situation, and advocating for that. 

A lot of this is about developing networks and relationships. I’ve met with Phil Eng, the former LIRR chairperson, under the context of a better ride. It’s a long ride to Manhattan for a lot of people who commute. Out of necessity, it requires a transfer either at Huntington or Hicksville because you cannot take a diesel engine into Manhattan. The future is a better ride into Penn Station, but also a better ride into Grand Central Station, which will be a possibility in the future.

This requires electric energy and how do you get that? Obviously a third rail is a possible solution, a very expensive solution. My comments to Mr. Eng and his associates have been, “By the way, we pay taxes too.” There was a time when the Ronkonkoma line, which has a decent ride, was diesel, but they electrified it. So is it our turn? This is what I’ve been advocating for. 

We want to get our foot on the ladder. We’re kind of standing at the bottom of the ladder watching everybody else go by. We want to get on the ladder and then move upward. On [May 31], we will be meeting with the Long Island Rail Road planning people to discuss the future and the possibilities. We will be discussing the schedule, we will be discussing a second track, we will be discussing a third rail, battery electric, and moving the LIRR station in Port Jefferson. Basically they would move the station and the rail yards west and eliminate the crossing in Upper Port, which would do a lot for traffic. 

I work on big projects and these are not accomplished in six months or a year. It takes several terms, but if you achieve these goals, they are very positive for the residents of the village. 

Trustee Bruce Miller delivers a speech regarding National Grid. File photo

In your opinion, how can residents play a more active role in decision-making?

I had mentioned the country club and participation on the part of the residents in terms of a public hearing and being able to vote on major issues that affect them. I believe we should have more participation in this area. 

During COVID, we had board meetings on Zoom. Now we have public meetings where the public attends, but we’re not having meetings on Zoom. Some of the people I know in the village who are infirm or who have particular medical issues that prevent them from attending public meetings are kind of shut out of the process. I am pressing, and will continue to press, for public meetings upstairs in the Village Hall, but also a component on Zoom where people can not only look in but participate as we had done during the COVID era. 

I think that would be a very important step forward. I have just learned that Riverhead is going to be doing this and there are a number of other communities on Long Island that do this. In the past, people who are not comfortable going into public places were shut out, unable to participate. Now they are shut out again and I believe we should be supporting them.

Is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?

As I said, I’m a person that works on big projects. I like to be a team member, but there are also certain times when you have to go against the grain. My belief is that I am an independent trustee. I’ve worked hard for the village and the school district. Also, in between my village and school district experience, I co-founded a grassroots committee to repower Port Jefferson. 

I’ve worked with legislative leaders at all levels — town, village, county, state and congressional people as well. I believe that I have a vision. I have demonstrated in the past that I have executed on that vision and I want to continue to serve. I believe in service, I believe in giving back. I’m not wealthy, but I’m comfortable. I have time and I would like to contribute.

Green energy is very important to me. Making the village affordable is a very high priority for me. Transportation has become a high priority. I believe I have the vision and the energy and the diligence to work on this. I think the village needs a voice that will stand up and say, “No, this is not right.” 

I am a very positive person, a very optimistic person, and I believe I take this optimism and enthusiasm to the work that I do. 

Industrial dredging vessels such as this were used to remove sand from the Belle Terre coastline, wiping out large sections of territory. This drove residents of the area to incorporate as a village in 1931. File photo from Pixabay

Nearly six decades ago, the residents of Port Jefferson made a pivotal decision: to incorporate as a village.

On a snowy day Dec. 7, 1962, villagers voted 689-361 in favor of incorporation. After court challenges, the vote was made official in April 1963.

Philip Griffith, co-editor of Port Jefferson Historical Society’s newsletter, said the incorporation of Port Jeff had been under discussion as early as 1960.

“At that time, Port Jefferson was part of the Town of Brookhaven,” Griffith said in a phone interview. “They were concerned that things happening in Brookhaven were being done independently of the residents of Port Jefferson. A lot of people were starting to feel, ‘Why don’t we incorporate as Belle Terre had done.’ Then we can make our own decisions, we can raise our own money through taxation and we can use those tax monies locally.” He added, “Instead of relying on representatives of the Town of Brookhaven, we would have our own elected representatives, all of whom would be residents of the village.”

While there were many proponents of incorporation, Griffith said there were also persuasive arguments made in opposition: “The main arguments against were people having a fear of leaving Brookhaven and not having the ability to raise sufficient finances to carry a village.” He added that opponents of incorporation were mainly driven by fear: “Fear of something that’s new, fear of change, fear of losing the umbrella of Brookhaven — and the fear of going on out your own.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Photo from Englebright’s Facebook page

Legacy of Belle Terre

This week, TBR News Media sat down with state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who shared his perspective of the legacy of incorporation in Port Jefferson and beyond. 

One of the first village incorporations in the area was Belle Terre, a coastal community preyed upon by industrial dredgers. In the early 1920s, hydraulic sand miners dredged large swaths of Belle Terre’s coastline to support the growing concrete industry which helped in the expansion of New York City.

“The sand had to come from somewhere and it came in the 1920s and ’30s mostly from the North Shore of Long Island,” Englebright said. “It was very threatening to the people who had homes and dreams of continuing to live in those homes and pass those homes on to their children. They lived in fear of having the sandy grounds under their homes sandblasted away.”

“The sand had to come from somewhere and it came in the 1920s and ’30s mostly from the North Shore of Long Island.” — Steve Englebright

Endangered by the sand miners right in their backyards, the residents of Belle Terre were advised to incorporate. 

“The relationship with the town had become fraught because the town was basically trading against the best interests of the people who lived where the resources were extractable,” the assemblyman said. “It was clear that sand dredging was a real threat to the quality of life for these North Shore communities.” He added, “It wasn’t just Brookhaven that was trading against the best interests of the North Shore residents, but all of the towns were doing this.”

After its successful incorporation in 1931, mining in Belle Terre had stopped altogether. 

The incorporation movement 

Port Jefferson accommodated a prosperous shipbuilding industry from the 1790s until the 1920s. After it wound down, the residents of the area were left with little choice but to adapt to the changing circumstances. 

With the construction of a new power plant between 1948 and 1960, villagers were motivated to incorporate to draw from this as a revenue stream. “They said if they incorporated as a village, they would be able to draw some revenue from that industrial facility and it would only be fair because they were hosting that facility and it served all of the town,” Englebright said. “They rationalized that it would be reasonable to draw the tax benefits from the imposition of such a heavily industrialized facility because it served for improving the quality of life for the village, most particularly the school district.”

This is the first story of a series on the incorporation of the Village of Port Jefferson. If you would like to contribute to this continuing series, please email [email protected]. 

Correction: In the original version of this story, it was reported: “The first village incorporation in the area was Belle Terre.” This statement is historically incorrect as Old Field had incorporated in 1927, four years before the incorporation of Belle Terre in 1931.

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Port Jefferson is saying it's owed concessions Huntington received in their settlement with LIPA. File photo by Erika Karp

Though litigation between North Shore towns and LIPA have ended, the story of the stacks is not yet over, not by a long shot.

The Town of Huntington, with one hour to spare on deadline, approved the settlement with the Long Island Power Authority on its tax certiorari case over its Northport power plant Sept. 4. The agreement cuts LIPA’s power plant property taxes from $86 to $46 million in a 7-year glidepath. The settlement also included an extra $3 million sweetener on top of the deal to be paid in $1 million installments in the next three years. This settlement addition came just a few weeks before the deadline neared.

Though Huntington residents and the local school district will have to deal with the financial impact over the next seven years, Port Jefferson and its residents are in the middle of its own glidepath from its 2018 settlement over the Port Jefferson power plant. Village officials said LIPA is contractually obligated, based in their own settlement, to also grant any beneficial deals to the Town of Brookhaven and Village of Port Jefferson.

Mayor Margot Garant said during the Sept. 8 village board meeting that Port Jeff’s attorney is in contact with LIPA’s counsel to get those same “sweeteners” by repassing their settlement.

Port Jefferson’s case was finally settled in December 2018, reducing the plant’s assessment from $32.6 million to $16.8 million over 9 years. Port Jefferson is currently in year 3 of the glidepath, with the first two years of the settlement effectively rolled into one.

Port Jefferson is in the midst of dealing with the loss of property tax revenue from the Port Jefferson Generating Station. This year’s budget reflects a $50,000 increase from last year in the total amount that Port Jeff has to raise from resident taxes, partially due to the LIPA settlement.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said he has been in contact with LIPA’s lawyers and is just waiting for the power authority to finalize the details of the Huntington settlement. He expects there could be the benefits of an extended payment and the potential to extend payments out over a longer time, adding that he hopes to have greater details of what Port Jeff should be able to get later this month.

In a statement, LIPA officials said that the power authority, Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jefferson “have started discussions to consider amendments to the 2018 settlement agreement for the Port Jefferson Power Station. LIPA intends to provide comparable settlement terms for Port Jefferson residents once the Northport settlement is finalized. Terms will be based on the size of the plant and existing tax payments.”

Egan also touted the village board’s decision to settle their plant’s case earlier than Huntington’s, adding that this means Port Jeff has a more gradual route to weather the drop in property taxes from the plant.

“The mayor and this board bore this settlement on their backs,” Egan said. “It was an early exit on this and Huntington is never going to recoup the costs they did.”

Trustee Bruce Miller said it’s important that Port Jeff receive that extra $3 million that Huntington will also be getting in their settlement over three years. In the past, LIPA has also argued that the plants in both townships may close in the near future. Meanwhile, Port Jeff has argued for keeping the plants running and retrofitting the property with newer technologies.

“We have been speaking with National Grid [which operates the Port Jeff plant] and they have been a little close-lipped,” Miller said. “LIPA, whether they have just been trying to get a settlement from Huntington, has been a little bit intimidating with talking about closing plants and not dealing with us in terms of what a better future will be.”

This post was amended Sept. 10 to add a statement from LIPA.

Old Field resident Tim Hopkins took this picture late on Aug. 1 saying the black plume came out of the stack for some time before later drifting out over the Long Island Sound. Photo by Hopkins

The Port Jefferson Generating Station on the shores of Port Jeff Harbor has displayed emission issues at least twice in the past two months, photo evidence and a statement from Long Island Power Authority have shown. While plant operators said they were minor incidents, local environmentalists were much more uncertain.

On Aug. 1, past president and current member of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Tim Hopkins, was out on the water in PJ Harbor when he took a picture of one of the chimneys belching black smoke into the air. 

Hopkins, who as a Village of Old Field trustee from 2016-18 chaired its environmental committee, said he goes out on the waters of Port Jeff Harbor on average six times a year, and this was the first time he saw the stack make that sort of cloud. He watched the stack exude the black smoke and snapped the picture at 7:40 p.m. The smoke, he said, continued to pour from the stack for some time before he left to go to Flax Pond. When he returned to the harbor, he saw the cloud had drifted over into Long Island Sound, where it lingered for some time.

John Turner, a local environmentalist who previously worked as Brookhaven Town’s director of the Division of Environmental Protection, said during a phone interview that, living on Long Island for 65 years, he could not recall seeing Port Jeff’s or any other power plant expelling emissions “that looked that disturbing, that’s potentially problematic from a health perspective.”

He said he also strongly suspects the black smoke could contain particulate matter, or dust and particles other than the normal gaseous emissions, that could be potentially damaging to breathe.

“That can’t possibly be just carbon dioxide or nitrogen oxide or other gases — that has to be particulate matter, which could be very troublesome to people’s lungs,” Turner said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is also the Assembly environmental committee chair. When first he saw an image of the plant’s emissions, he said, “It looks deadly,” adding, “This is not a good day to breathe.”

What it looked like to the assemblyman, a geologist and ardent environmental advocate, was black particulate mixed with the emission plume. Englebright said the emissions were as bad as he’s ever seen in the three decades he’s been in office, and it far exceeds normal opacity standards. Normally when the plant is active there may be a white plume coming from the stack, especially visible in winter when much of the visibility is the hot vapor interacting with cold air to create condensation. 

The plant is operated by United Kingdom-based utility company National Grid, and LIPA said in a statement National Grid is aware of all environmental regulatory requirements and the plant normally operates in compliance.

In an email response to inquiries, a spokesperson for National Grid said that the Aug. 1 incident was caused when Long Island’s electric system began to vary load and the unit became unbalanced. The black particles, National Grid said, were “most likely unburnt carbon due to the boiler imbalance,” adding it is similar to what can happen to a home heating system. 

The statement said the situation lasted for six minutes while the operator made adjustments to correct the situation. Hopkins reaffirmed he saw the stack smoking for much longer than that. 

In response to the assemblyman’s inquiries, LIPA sent an answer instead about another emissions failure which occurred on a separate date, July 11. 

LIPA said for 12 minutes, the plant exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opacity limits on that early July date. The electric utility said the incident was a result of the plant “combusting a mix of natural gas and residual oil,” while increasing load to meet demands on the grid. While increasing load, LIPA said the boiler “experienced an upset, resulting in a temporary interruption of the fuel supply and subsequent loss of load. This caused the unit to smoke (opacity) for a short period.”

LIPA said the emissions on that date were made of various gases such as nitrogen and nitrogen dioxide, but the power authority claimed they were below regulatory limits. It also claimed the plant is unable to measure the amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide released by the emissions. 

National Grid’s statement said the plant’s automated monitoring system notified the control room about the issues. Opacity incidents are reported to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 60 days following the end of each quarter. The company added that while opacity exceedance does occur, it maintains compliance a vast majority of the time.

“The plant is well maintained and operates in compliance with environmental regulations greater than 99% of the time,” National Grid’s statement read. “National Grid operators are highly skilled, receive ongoing training and operate the units to maintain compliance with all regulatory requirements. … However, there is no fail-safe item that will guarantee no events in the future.”

In a statement, the DEC said National Grid has reported about the Aug. 1 boiler issue but has no record of a July 11 event. The agency said plant emissions are run through filters to remove particulates before they are released into the atmosphere.

“DEC reviews the data logs from these monitors as part of our rigorous oversight of these facilities to ensure protection of public health and the environment from long-term particulate matter releases,” the agency wrote in its release.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement the New York DEC is the primary regulator of the facility and sets opacity requirements, though all facilities must follow federal guidelines set by the Clean Air Act. The EPA website lists that it last inspected the Port Jeff site June 16, where the plant passed its compliance inspection.

The units entered service in 1958 and 1960, and have since gone from using coal to diesel, and now runs as a hybrid that takes in both natural gas and oil. The plant only operates a small percentage of the year, but use often peaks during the heat of summer, as more people run their air conditioners, and in the winter when more customers are working their heating systems. 

Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said in an email she had not been made aware by LIPA about the opacity violations. She said the sight of the black cloud was highly unusual, as the only time emissions are normally visible at all is during the winter.

Garant and other village officials have been working with an engineering firm in drafting a report to argue for retrofitting the power plant with newer technologies, including a hybrid battery to store energy in case of demand.

“You have old iron here, and when you need help to offset the peak demands, a cleaner plant would be an improvement at the site,” the mayor said.

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LIPA Study Hints at Decommissioning Port Jeff Generating Station

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

Port Jeff officials are trying to combat potential LIPA plans to decommission the PJ generating station in the next few years, saying there is potential for the site when, or if, renewable energy isn’t enough to meet demands.

With so much attention put to the Long Island Power Authority over PSEG LI’s challenged storm response and upcoming public hearings over the Northport power plant, village officials now have their hands on a report by Robert Foxen, the CEO of Garden City-based engineering consultant Global Common, who was asked to create a study of potential use for the Port Jefferson generating station. The village board approved the study in June at a price not to exceed $7,500. 

“If they have to unload 400 megawatts of power, we would prefer that would be somebody else and not Port Jefferson.”

—Margot Garant

In a draft version of his report, Foxen says there are advantages to the power facility on the harbor, including that it already has existing utility hookup for gas and electric and would serve as an “adequate” space for a new hybrid battery without demolishing the existing plant. He also cites in the report the site has strong capacity to switch from liquid fuel to natural gas to reduce costs, and that the site could serve as a host to potentially make Port Jeff electrically independent on its own microgrid, ensuring power for the village in case a shutdown to the main grid.

This comes down the pipe as the village’s purchase power agreement is set to expire in 2027, but because of a provision in the contract, LIPA could give notice and end its agreement as early as 2025.

Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant was one of the main major players involved with the tax certiorari case about the Port Jeff Power Plant in advocating for the eventual settlement. Now that LIPA has made mention of decommissioning the plant, she argues losing that facility would mean a loss of reliable standard power to supplement the general push toward renewable energy.

She related it to the recent snafu with PSEG’s handling of Tropical Storm Isaias, where major sections of Port Jefferson went without power for days and the utility company was next to impossible to reach.

“It’s interesting we have a lot of plans on paper, but when you get into the everyday of how things are working or not working, it gets complicated,” Garant said. “We still really believe that our fossil fuel plant will benefit everyone in the long run because it will be reliable power. We want them to know that Port Jeff is doing their homework and is looking toward the future, and if they have to unload 400 megawatts of power, we would prefer that would be somebody else and not Port Jefferson.”

The report emphasizes that LIPA seems set to offer a PPA to large-scale battery projects “and will issue a [request for proposal] this fall.” Foxen notes that National Grid is set to propose a 100 megawatt battery for the Port Jeff site and expects to respond for an incoming RFP in late 2020.

National Grid did not respond to a request for comment.

Foxen writes in the report the next step is to create a phase 2 to the current study, and discuss strategy with Jim Flannery, the vice president of National Grid.

LIPA’s Future Plans

New York has set a lofty goal of having 70 percent of all electricity come from renewable sources by 2030 and that the electrical grid will be entirely carbon free by 2040. To that end, two wind power companies have won bids to create 1,700 watts of power from offshore wind farms. One of the two companies, the Denmark-based Orsted, has made previous announcements it plans to base its service and repair crews out of Port Jefferson Harbor. Though the timeline for those to be up and running have started to fall behind, as in April the company said they have experienced delays, some due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a May release, LIPA presented a study about closing down a number of its Long Island power plants, including stations such as Glenwood Landing in Nassau, Northport and Port Jeff. It cites new renewable energy has caused a general decrease in need from plants like Port Jeff. The document states it will craft a review by the end of this year on whether to retire “1960s-era steam plants” in Island Park and Port Jefferson as well as recommend an additional decommissioning of 400 to 600 megawatts of steam plants by 2022. Thomas Falcone, the CEO of LIPA, also said reducing the taxes on the plants would lead to “hundreds of millions in tax subsidies for years to come, even if the plants close, averting the immediate, drastic increase in residents’ tax rates that will result from a valuation of the plants reached by a court.”

Perhaps most vague, was the release supporting the idea that redeveloping the Port Jeff and other plants with cleaner technologies was “uneconomical.”

Whether this report was a way of aiding LIPA’s case against the Town of Huntington as it looks to nail down a settlement in that plant’s tax certiorari case, it still hints at what could be a loss for Port Jeff if it truly were to pack up its toys and leave. In a statement, LIPA clarified that “the overassessment of taxes at each of the steam plants, despite their declining energy production, is a significant factor in the early retirement of the plants. Any redevelopment of the sites with cleaner technologies, like storage, would likely be uneconomical because of the current tax assessments. The taxes on these properties are unsustainable for our customers.”

The LIPA plant as seen from Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

Garant responded to the idea of the plant being uneconomical saying “They have to also look at is having an unreliable power grid, [keeping the plant open] is a drop in the bucket to what the storm just did to us.”

LIPA, in a statement said the after-storm repairs relates “to the transmission and distribution system, not to generating capacity. The storm experience does not affect our plans for achieving a clean power supply.”

The load on power plants often peaks when weather gets extreme, such as the middle of summer and winter, but according to a May report by LIPA, the forecast for peak load has declined steadily over the past year. LIPA has that while four fossil fuel plants built around the 1960s supply just 21 percent of Long Island’s electricity, the plants make up 80 percent of taxes of what customers pay. In December 2018, when LIPA was signing the settlement, it said the Port Jeff plant only ran 11 percent of the year in 2017. 

According to a draft edition of the Global Common study, all Long Island plants have seen an annual decrease in the power output of these plants over the past decade, yet Foxen and now the village is arguing that there will be spikes in demand during extreme weather, and plants such as the one in Port Jeff will be needed to carry that extra load. Batteries, Garant argued, will also not be able to store the day’s worth of electricity if the grid is shut down.

Though the Town of Brookhaven and Village of Port Jefferson have settled on a 10-year glidepath for the Port Jefferson generating station, the Town of Huntington has yet to make a final decision on its Northport plant for what would be a seven-year glide path to an overall 50 percent reduction in the plant’s assessment. 

LIPA Settlement and Finances

PSEG Long Island customers pay power plant taxes through monthly surcharges on their electric bills, but LIPA owns the electric grid and has agreements with National Grid for the power plants in both Port Jefferson and Northport. In 2009 LIPA challenged both the towns of Brookhaven and Huntington saying it had been overassessed for years, especially since the Port Jeff plant runs for so little time during the year.

For Port Jeff, however, the glidepath reducing the Port Jeff assessment by 50 percent over 10 years has caused additional problems during a year of pandemic. This year’s village budget saw a 3.19 percent decrease from last year’s budget, while residents have been asked to shoulder more thanks to the loss of power plant property taxes. The pandemic has eliminated a good amount of surplus carry over from last year, and village officials voted to put up a bond for multiple projects that were in varying stages of getting done, rather than letting them fall to the wayside.

On the Huntington side of the tax lawsuit, things seem to be coming to a head, though the Town of Huntington has not yet signed any deal and is hosting public forums to gather comments on the proposed 50 percent glide path settlement. Officials have also previously asked LIPA to beg the court to delay any verdict because of the pandemic. LIPA has refused.

Officials from the Town of Brookhaven, which also were part of the Port Jeff plant settlement, declined to comment because Huntington’s case is still being litigated, but Garant said she feels the best way to reduce economic harm to village finances and the community is to keep that power plant property open in some way shape or form.

“That was a major component of what I promised when I ran in 2009 that I would do everything I can to keep our plant open, and now we’re facing that again,” the mayor said. “I think I want to make sure Port Jeff is never not part of that discussion and is ahead of that discussion. Meanwhile everyone else is looking backward.”

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.