A vital undersea power cable that has experienced problems in the past year is back in service but needs longer-term repairs and even a potential "supersizing" as the state prepares for an influx of green energy sources, officials said.
The White Plains-based New York Power Authority, which owns and operates the Long Island Sound Cable, also known as Y-49, under a contract to LIPA, is conducting a review of problems that have led to intermittent outages over the past year. It's also formulating plans to strengthen and upgrade the cable for future projects, NYPA Chief Executive Gil Quiniones told Newsday in an interview.
"We know how important that is to LIPA and the people on Long Island," Quiniones said of the 26-mile line that provides 637 megawatts of capacity from Westchester to Long Island. "We are committed, and we are going to fix Y-49 as soon as possible," Quiniones said.
What to know
- NYPA's cable from Long Island to Westchester has experienced problems.
- NYPA says it will upgrade the line, to address the problems.
- It's also considering supersizing the cable to double its capacity.
- Increasing its capacity and flexibility will help deliver offshore-wind power.
LIPA, in a statement, said the cable "has not been as reliable as it should be," and the utility is "looking to restore the reliability ... and is awaiting NYPA’s proposal." The contract for the cable expires in October 2022, and it's not certain LIPA will renew it.
Neither NYPA nor LIPA would provide an estimate of the cost to repair and upgrade the cable, and it's not clear who would pay the tab.
If LIPA renews the contract, LIPA ratepayers would foot the bill.
"Should we decline to extend the contract," LIPA said, "NYPA would seek to recover the [repair] cost on a statewide basis" from ratepayers across the state.
LIPA last year extended its contract for the Y-49 cable. It had previously paid $20 million a year for the cable, including NYPA’s cost of debt service, maintenance and repair and "certain operating risks," while getting certain revenue from the cable, according to LIPA documents. Under the temporary contract extension, LIPA pays operations and maintenance costs of around $6 million a year.
LIPA's contract for the cable dates to 1991, when the utility was known as the Long Island Lighting Co.
A possible reference point for the cost of a more complete upgrade for Y-49 is the cost of LIPA's newest undersea cable — the Neptune cable, which runs from New Jersey to Long Island. In 2007, LIPA contracted for construction of the $600 million cable, for which ratepayers will pay more than $1.75 billion in capacity costs over 20 years. Capacity costs are fees LIPA pays to maintain and reserve use of the cable. It also must pay for energy it buys and transmits through the cable.
Last year, LIPA spent $92.3 million in capacity costs for the 65-mile Neptune cable, which is operating at half its 660 megawatt capacity because of land-based transformer problems. Neptune provides energy for around 600,000 customers, LIPA has said.
While Y-49 is currently operating without problems, LIPA and PSEG officials noted its past problems during a recent LIPA board meeting to discuss summer energy needs. If it were to fail again, LIPA could draw from smaller power plants located in West Babylon and Glenwood Landing, officials said. It's uncertain how that could affect summer energy prices.
Repairing, upgrading Y-49 cable
Quiniones said NYPA is exploring several theories about what may have caused the recent problems with the line, and is considering solutions including replacing the cable's entire land-based span from the Hempstead Harbor landing point to East Garden City, modernizing those sections to eliminate problems.
Longer term, he said the authority also is considering "supersizing" the cable as part of a plan to make it ready for an influx of offshore wind power and other green energy sources. That would mean roughly doubling its capacity to above 1,200 megawatts. The plan also would make the line "more controllable," so that NYPA can better manage energy transmission as wind power from waters around Long Island begins to make its way onto the grid in coming years. Quiniones said it could involve transmitting excess wind energy upstate.
One potential issue with upgrading the Y-49 cable, Quiniones said, is that the power line is so important to the region that limiting its use during the upgrade presents a series of grid challenges.
"Think of it as the Long Island Expressway," he said. "When you interrupt the LIE, all cars need an alternative route." Existing power lines, including a backup on the Y-49, may not be enough to handle the demand, he said.
Y-49 cable facts
- Began service to LIPA in 1991
- Runs from East Garden City to Sprain Brook, Westchester
- Its capacity is 637 megawatts
- Cable is 26 miles long
- It's owned by the New York Power Authority