State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and his challenger in next month’s election, Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, are at odds over the recent Long Island Power Authority decision to renew a 15-year agreement with National Grid, the British supplier of natural gas and electricity.
The agreement contracts National Grid to continue to provide 3,700 megawatts of capacity from its 50 power plants, and is expected to save ratepayers $10 million over the first five years, according to LIPA.
Ms. Fleming spoke out in opposition of the decision last week on the grounds that the agreement lacks a firm commitment to the “twin goals” of keeping electric rates down on Long Island and moving toward renewable energy sources. She said that LIPA’s Board of Trustees should have obtained and taken into consideration the results of a study that examined how the previous agreement with National Grid, which dates back to 1988, affected rates before making a decision on the new contract. She added that LIPA’s ongoing request for proposals for new power generation, which is set to be completed this fall, should also have been taken into consideration before a decision was made on the 15-year accord.
Ms. Fleming, a Democrat, said the agreement locks in the use of dirty fuel products and higher rates, and, therefore, discourages small business owners from relocating to Long Island. “We need to bring those people to us, and we’re not going to do it if we have extremely high electricity rates,” she said.
In contrast, Mr. LaValle said he supports the agreement because it offers the option of repowering outdated power plants, such as the one in the Village of Port Jefferson, which is an “economic engine” for Suffolk County and would help meet Long Island’s growing power needs without creating another brownfield, or contaminated industrial site. It also provides the capacity needed to meet state requirements and the demand of Long Island residents while renewable sources are brought online, Drew Biondo, a spokesman for Mr. LaValle, said last week.
The agreement, which still requires approval from the New York State Attorney General, the New York State Office of the State Comptroller and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would “establish procedures for the potential repowering” of the plant in Port Jefferson, which currently runs at a low capacity, according to LIPA. Repowering would involve modifying the plant to increase output and efficiency. Proponents of the project say it would keep the plant on the tax rolls while providing new power without clearing green fields in other areas for additional facilities.
“These are communities here on Long Island that were seeking to have their plants repowered and to do it in a way that made them energy efficient and cost effective to the rate-payers,” said Mr. LaValle, a Republican who has held his seat in Albany for 36 years. “So, it is really a win-win for both the host communities and for the rate-payers.”
Mr. LaValle also pointed out that despite Ms. Fleming’s charges that he pressured LIPA into prematurely approving the agreement, he had no part in the negotiations.
“One of the most fundamental points” of the agreement, he added, is to update and modernize National Grid’s power plants in order to make them more efficient and environmentally friendly, and it does not restrict LIPA from exploring renewable energy sources. Mr. LaValle pointed to legislation that promotes solar energy and his support of the 32-megawatt Long Island Solar Farm at Brookhaven National Lab as examples of his green record. The farm, which has been up and running since November 2011, is made up of 164,312 solar panels and produces enough energy to power 4,500 homes, according to LIPA, which partnered with BP Solar to complete the project.
Though Ms. Fleming said she, too, supports the repowering of outdated plants, she said the power supply agreement offers only the possibility of repowering without fully committing to it. Though the agreement has not been released yet, the resolution approved by LIPA’s Trustees describes it as a “repowering option,” which Ms. Fleming said was not a strong enough commitment to win her approval. LIPA’s current power supply agreement with National Grid is set to expire in May 2013.
Paul DeCotis, vice president of power markets for LIPA, said the language in the agreement is as strong as it could be regarding repowering. He said that before LIPA can commit to any repowering project, the associated costs need to be determined and it has to be approved by the attorney general and the FERC, a process that has not yet been completed. He said the agreement allows LIPA to begin the process of hiring engineers within 30 days of it being signed, and he pointed out that the previous contract did not include the option of repowering. LIPA’s Trustees would need to sign a separate power supply agreement with National Grid for each repowered plant.