LIPA vote on generators due Tuesday

Ratepayers confronted LIPA Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, over

Ratepayers confronted LIPA Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, over its new proposal for billing that would allow it to recover all its fuel expenses each month based on real-time costs rather than annual estimates. These lines off Pinelawn Road in Melville frame the sunrise. (Aug. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Ken Sawchuk

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With environmental groups lining up in opposition, LIPA trustees Tuesday will vote on a new 15-year capacity contract for dozens of National Grid power generators, a pact that includes the option to upgrade the three largest plants while saving around $2 million annually.

The contract, valued at around $241 million a year, would provide LIPA with continued access to 50 different National Grid generating units at 12 different locations, including big steam plants at Northport, Port Jefferson and Island Park. The plants provide a total of 3,700 megawatts of LIPA's 6,000-megawatt capacity. In addition, LIPA pays $180 million a year in taxes on the plants.

If approved, the contract would amend and renew an existing 15-year pact with National Grid and would take effect next May. At that point, LIPA and National Grid would move ahead with detailed engineering and cost studies on overhauling the Port Jefferson, Northport and Island Park plants. Several smaller plants at Holbrook and Island Park also could be repowered.

Environmentalists who want LIPA to instead contract for a new offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island will present LIPA trustees with more than 2,000 signatures to push for cleaner renewable energy. "We don't want to see LIPA lock in to a long-term fossil fuel contract," said Kim Teplitzky, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club, an environmental group. "Long-term commitments should be to clean, renewable energy."

"It is really infuriating," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "They just killed a clean energy future in favor of saving our dirty energy past."

The trustees meeting will provide a brief period for public comment, but copies of the contract will not be made available until after the trustees vote. LIPA and National Grid have been negotiating behind closed doors for more than a year. The arrangement must be approved by the state attorney general and comptroller, and by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In a briefing on the new contract Monday, Paul DeCotis, vice president of power markets for LIPA, said that the new contract was necessary for LIPA to meet regulatory requirements for Long Island, and that it would not hinder LIPA's ability or desire to invest in clean energy.

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While National Grid would advance the cost of repowering plants, those costs would be recouped under terms of any new power purchase agreements for those plants, officials said. LIPA also expects it will need a new plant before the decade's end to have enough backup capacity to repower Port Jefferson, which would have to be shuttered and demolished before a cleaner plant could be built in its place.

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