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Utility: Water recycling requirement would hike rates

A proposed state rule to protect fish by requiring power plants to recycle cooling water rather than draw huge amounts from public waterways would hike electric rates and could increase air pollution, LIPA and its contractor National Grid say.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation last month proposed the new requirement for plants that draw millions of gallons of water a day - as well as unintended fish and fish eggs - to cool their systems and generate turbine-turning steam. The new mandate calls for closed-cycle systems that reuse water by cooling it in giant radiators. The DEC will issue a final mandate after a comment period, likely before year's end.

Environmentalists and fishing interests applauded the rule, saying the costs far outweigh the damage the big plants cause.

But in responses submitted last month, National Grid and the Long Island Power Authority argued the cost was prohibitive, air quality could suffer and the same results could be achieved by existing technology at one-tenth the cost.

In its comments, National Grid said the cost to upgrade the E.F. Barrett power station in Island Park alone would be $120 million, atop $10 million a year in higher operating costs. By comparison, alternative technologies it proposes would cost around $12 million and $1 million a year in new operating costs.

At least four other National Grid plants would eventually be covered by the rules, including the large steam-generating plant in Northport, which would require larger cash investments.

LIPA chief executive Kevin Law said those upgrade costs would be paid by LIPA customers. "We all want to be good stewards of the environment, but people need to realize that any new regulatory burden put on these plants, the cost will be borne by ratepayers," he said, noting every $40 million in costs equals a 1 percent rate hike.

He said LIPA was hopeful an experimental technology in which water to cool plants is drawn from earth deep beneath the ocean floor will someday address the issue. National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said the company and LIPA will soon be briefed on results from a recent third-party pilot of that technology, results she said "were mixed."

"After we digest the results we will decide what if any steps are necessary in pursuing this technology," she said.

Environmentalists say LIPA and National Grid's alternative solutions don't go far enough in protecting fish, and their effectiveness is exaggerated. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the solutions were inferior to closed-cycle cooling, and do nothing to stop the impact of heated water re-entering waterways. "We believe the costs in LIPA [and National Grid's] comments are inflated. We believe that National Grid should follow the law," she said.

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