New Caithness power plant's merits debated

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The merits of building Long Island's biggest new power plant were debated at a hearing in Brookhaven Tuesday night as the 750-megawatt plant began the most public part of its move toward a planned 2018 startup.

Labor groups whose members showed up in force at the meeting generally supported the Caithness II power plant project and the 500 construction jobs and $200 million in expected payroll it would create during the 28 months it would take to build.

But some civic, environmental and municipal groups expressed opposition, saying the plant in an industrial section of Yaphank may not be needed, would slow adoption of new green energy sources and could hurt the prospects that the Long Island Power Authority would overhaul the Port Jefferson power plant owned by National Grid.

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), in a letter read at the meeting, urged the Brookhaven board to reject the requested permits being sought for the Caithness II plant because of concerns that Port Jefferson would be neglected as a result.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine and Councilman Daniel Panico, both Republicans, questioned a LIPA official on the utility's relatively limited plan for green power alternatives in light of a state mandate for 30 percent renewables. Neither said he opposed Caithness II.

Caithness president Ross Ain said the plant would be the island's cleanest burning, operate more cheaply than others and require the clearing of about 24 acres adjacent to Caithness' existing 350-megawatt plant.

Caithness has not said how much the new plant would cost, but Newsday has reported it to be in excess of $3 billion, with utility rates increasing by as much as 3 percent by 2018 as a result.

Longwood school district president Dan Tomaszewski said the district supported the plant and it expects financial benefits from the plant, though it's unclear how much the utility would pay in equivalent tax payments.

Peter Gollon, energy chairman of the Sierra Club's Long Island branch, said LIPA's statement of projected need of 900-1,200 megawatts of additional capacity was "iffy at best" and urged that the utility instead focus on green energy sources.

Brookhaven Town Board members first must vote on a draft environmental impact statement. They must also vote to approve special permits to operate the facility, which would have two 170-foot stacks.

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