East Hampton residents push for underground power lines

A PSEG Long Island truck shown in Hicksville A PSEG Long Island truck shown in Hicksville on Jan. 1, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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More than 200 East Hampton ratepayers packed a hearing yesterday on PSEG Long Island's $200 million plan to cut power use, demanding more green energy, more public participation in power decisions and a commitment to bury a controversial 6.2-mile power line through town.

At a hearing hosted by the Department of Public Service in East Hampton Village, officials and residents railed against giant poles and transmission lines, which aren't addressed in PSEG's Utility 2.0 plan. More than a dozen residents wore bright orange T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Bury the Lines."

"Transmission lines should never be put in residential neighborhoods," said Lynne Brown of the group Save East Hampton. The project is stalled by a town stop-work order being contested in state court.

State Assem. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) called for a "consistent policy" for putting lines underground and a "fair and equitable way" of paying for them.

East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the plan should provide mechanisms for burying power lines, called for a plan to develop power sources for Montauk in case of major flooding, and asked that all new power sources be renewable.

Earlier Tuesday at a hearing in Riverhead, ratepayers urged the company to more aggressively incorporate solar and wind energy into the plan, to eschew fossil fuel generators, and to rely on market competition, not ratepayers, to foot the bill.

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PSEG's 10-year plan calls for spending $60 million to install devices in homes and businesses that let the utility remotely adjust air conditioners and pool pumps to reduce electric use; $45 million to install large commercial solar-power systems; $8 million to educate home users on reducing energy; and $30 million each for hospitals and lower-income customers for energy efficiency measures.

Many of the dozen speakers in Riverhead urged PSEG to more quickly and aggressively adopt elements of a new state plan called REV, for Reforming the Energy Vision. It calls for migrating from a system of big central power plants and transmission systems to one of widely dispersed and diverse energy sources, with utilities acting as "platform providers" to control and monitor the grid to ensure reliability, efficiency and customer choice.

"We don't want the fox guarding the henhouse anymore," said Andrea Barracca, a Middle Island teacher and activist, noting that old-world utilities have few incentives to push for more market competition. She called for "free-market" alternatives to energy delivery, and suggested that solar power be given a "central role," with wind power as a primary backup.

Most at the meeting hailed the utility's recent recommendation to halt plans for a 752-megawatt power plant in Yaphank called Caithness II, saying its $3 billion-plus cost would have gobbled up future energy budgets."Caithness II is a robbery set up as a construction project," said activist Peter Maniscalco, who led the effort to defeat the Shoreham nuclear plant. Candida Harper, a teacher from East Marion, called for the plan to have "more emphasis on wind" power, and to make infrastructure improvements on the North Fork.

"We've always felt like electrical orphans out there," she said. "We would like to see upgraded infrastructure."

One element of the state vision is a concept called microgrids, which are smaller regional power systems that can be independent from the primary grid, including alternative power sources. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration on Tuesday announced a $40 million microgrid competition to "inspire a new generation of local power by challenging New York businesses, entrepreneurs, and electric utilities to design and implement community-based microgrids."

"This competition will encourage individuals and organizations across the state to come up with plans for protecting and strengthening their electrical system in the face of major storms," Cuomo said in a statement.

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