Bill would block LIPA from power plant deal

An aerial photo of the Caithness facility in

An aerial photo of the Caithness facility in Yaphank on June 6, 2013. (Credit: Doug Kuntz )

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle last week inserted language into the Senate's one-house budget bill that would block LIPA from entering into power-generation contracts that would give the utility so much excess power that it wouldn't need to overhaul existing plants.

The language is intended to bolster LaValle's desire to see the National Grid-owned Port Jefferson power station, which is in his district, overhauled. Without mentioning it, LaValle's language takes aim at the Long Island Power Authority's plan to enter into a power purchase agreement with Caithness Long Island Energy for a new 750-megawatt plant in Yaphank.

The new Caithness plant, at an estimated cost of $3 billion, would sit beside Caithness' existing 350-megawatt plant, creating a 1.1 gigawatt power behemoth. A megawatt of power supplies up to 800 homes. LIPA's 1.1 million customers use around 3,500 megawatts during nonpeak times.


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LaValle's gesture may be purely symbolic, depending on whether his language survives the state budget process. But he has support from at least one Long Island assemblyman, Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who has requested that Brookhaven Town reject permit requests by Caithness to build and operate the new plant.

LaValle last month also sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, saying Caithness "would increase power generation hundreds of megawatts over any reasonable estimate of current or future power needs for the area, and may cause extreme damage to the environment."

Caithness officials have said the highly efficient proposed plant will displace less clean power resources, help foster more renewables and is needed as backup to overhaul Port Jefferson.

LIPA has spent years reviewing plant proposals as part of a bidding process that sought up to 2,500 megawatts of new power. In the end, LIPA chose Caithness II, saying the 750 megawatts it proposed was the best deal for ratepayers.

LIPA trustees were expected to vote to approve a 20-year power purchase agreement with Caithness in coming months, but a state source said the vote may not happen until late this year or early next year. LIPA didn't respond to a request seeking comment.

"I'm not opposed to Caithness," LaValle said Friday, after returning from budget sessions in Albany. "What's troubling me is the 750 megawatts."

LIPA has previously acknowledged the Caithness II plant would increase rates by up to 3 percent when or if it comes online in 2018. LIPA has forecast a need for 900 to 1,200 megawatts of new power by 2023, even though Long Islanders' energy use has stagnated or declined in the past several years.

Caithness and LIPA have long maintained that the excess of power is needed as backup to overhaul Port Jefferson. But LaValle said he's tallied a range of projects that LIPA has planned for new power sources -- such as solar plants and a possible wind farm in Block Island Sound -- and said if all are completed along with Caithness II, there may be no need to repower Port Jefferson.

Jeff Weir, spokesman for PSEG Long Island, said the New Jersey utility isn't scheduled to take on the power markets role from LIPA's newly created power division, Power Supply Long Island, until January. He said the LIPA board won't vote on the power purchase agreement until the Brookhaven Town Board has issued environmental approvals. A Brookhaven Town spokesman didn't immediately have a comment.

In urging Brookhaven to reject permits for the plant, Englebright agreed with LaValle that the proposed plant is beyond the region's needs.

"The Caithness II proposal at 750 megawatts is a dramatic increase of hundreds of megawatts over any reasonable estimate of current or future power needs for the area and would wholly preclude recommissioning of the Port Jefferson plant as well as seriously impair the development of a coherent strategy of renewables moving forward," Englebright wrote.

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