Push for Port Jefferson power plant overhaul study

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State and local lawmakers Friday demanded that the Long Island Power Authority get to work on a long-promised study into the feasibility of overhauling the Port Jefferson power plant as LIPA prepares to contract for other power sources that could render the 63-year old plant obsolete.

Against the backdrop of the plant in Port Jefferson Village, local and state officials promised to push LIPA to make good on its promise to complete the study and do the work that will result in the plant's long-term usefulness.

"We like our power plant and we want to keep our power plant," state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) told a group of several hundred, including residents and unionized plant workers who turned out for a rally under the banner, "Power Up Port Jeff." He demanded that LIPA begin the study within 90 days, noting it had been promised as part of a $5-billion power supply agreement between LIPA and plant owner, National Grid, in 2012.

A LIPA spokesman declined to comment.

Officials are concerned that LIPA will soon sign a contract for a new 750-megawatt plant in Yaphank, called Caithness II, that will obviate the need for a repowered, 362-magawatt Port Jefferson plant.

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), is attempting to introduce language into the State Assembly's budget resolution that would block LIPA from entering new contracts that would provide it with so much excess power that it wouldn't need to repower the old plants. LaValle has already included such language in the Senate budget bill.

Englebright said the Port Jefferson facility would accommodate a repowering or any number of renewable-energy scenarios, and must be part of the LIPA's future energy needs. "The bridge to the future is the plant behind us," he said. LIPA in 2013 paid $27.5 million in property taxes on the plant, a substantial portion of which goes to the local school district budget.

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Some residents at the noon rally urged officials to worry less about the promised study and more about persuading LIPA to get to work overhauling the plant.

"Forget the feasibility study -- there are 100 feasibility studies," said Molly Mason, who lives in the shadow of the plant. "We want Port Jeff repowered, and we don't want Caithness II to move forward at this time."

She pointed to LIPA statements that Caithness II will increase rates up to 3 percent starting in 2018. "All the financials are on ratepayers' backs," she said of the new plant.

A Caithness spokesman declined to comment. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine said a repowered Port Jeff plant should be part of a more diverse power menu for LIPA, including a 53 megawatts of renwable-energy proposals the town has been pushing LIPA to approve. "Yes, we do need this plant, but we also some diversity in our [energy] portfolio," he said.

One big question for the Port Jefferson plant is whether Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will support the LaValle/Englebright budget language. Cuomo's office hasn't responded to requests for comment on the subject, though LaValle said in conversations, the governor has expressed support for "communities that would be devastated" by retirement of such plants.

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