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Brookhaven wants full power plant study

An aerial photo of LIPA's Caithness facility in

An aerial photo of LIPA's Caithness facility in Yaphank shows the large rectangular parcel about the same size as the plant directly adjacent to the now operating facility on June 6, 2013. Credit: Doug Kuntz

The Brookhaven Town Board, in an early step in the development of a 752-megawatt power plant in Yaphank, has called for a full environmental study after finding that the plant could have "significant adverse impacts."

The plant, known as Caithness II, was given the go-ahead by the Long Island Power Authority in July, although an actual contract for the $3 billion-plus plant has yet to be finalized. Caithness Long Island Energy, which owns an existing 350-megawatt plant on the same site and is developing Caithness II, is paying for the study and other pre-construction requirements, LIPA has said.

Brookhaven is seeking a full draft environmental impact statement to determine just how locating, building and operating the large plant on a 30-acre plot to the north of Caithness' existing unit will affect the surrounding area. Caithness will conduct the study.

A public meeting to determine the scope of the study was held in Brookhaven Town Hall last Wednesday. No residents attended. They can still submit written comments to the town through Sept. 16.

Johan McConnell, president of the South Yaphank Civic Association, said she doesn't expect opposition to Caithness II to be anywhere near as intense as to the original Caithness.

"The money isn't there," she explained, noting the owner of a nearby apartment complex who funded legal challenges to the original Caithness has since sold his interest.

Brookhaven is acting as lead agency for the project, meaning it must see that all regulatory measures and approvals for the plant are met. Caithness pays all the costs, but recoups them through a long-term contract with LIPA.

The primarily gas-fired plant will consist of two heavy-duty combustion turbines to feed a single steam turbine generator. An emergency diesel generator will be on site to provide emergency power for "safe shutdown of the facility in the event of a system-wide power outage," Caithness said in public documents. The project, which abuts an LIRR line, is about a third of a mile from homes on Sills Road.

Brookhaven officials said in a statement that the potential for significant adverse environmental impacts from the plant stems from its size, among other factors, including that the 81-acre site sits above Long Island's sole-source aquifer. The new plant would require several waivers for height restrictions in the town to accommodate an additional smoke stack. The project's design would require that it mitigate noise impacts, and prevent any potential leaks of petroleum and chemical bulk storage on site.

Edward Romaine, Brookhaven Town supervisor, said that while the town believes there may be significant impacts from the plant, not all of them will be adverse. "It's a very large project," he said. "I think it's going to have a significant impact. I don't know if it's adverse."

Ross Ain, president of Caithness Long Island, said the new plant will be "subject to an extensive environmental review process," as required by state law. He said the plant will be "far more efficient and cleaner than the old existing baseload power plants on Long Island."

One element of Caithness II that will be different from the first plant, Romaine said, is that any community benefit package will go to the town's general fund, rather than being doled out to community organizations as was the case during the first Caithness project.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said LIPA chose Caithness II out of a field of some 45 different energy projects because it "provided the greatest overall value to our customers."

LIPA is expected to contract for all of the plant's capacity of 752 megawatts. One megawatt powers around 800 homes, meaning Caithness II could provide energy for around 560,000 LIPA customers, about half LIPA's customer base.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated how much electricity LIPA will buy from Caithness II.

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