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LIPA discloses two new major power line failures; says power supply still adequate

The Richard M. Flynn Power Plant in Holtsville.

The Richard M. Flynn Power Plant in Holtsville.  Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

Problems with three major power lines to Long Island — including total outages on two of the largest — led LIPA trustees on Wednesday to approve a measure to pay $67 million to fix a Holtsville power plant the state had planned to mothball.

LIPA and grid manager PSEG Long Island also have put on hold plans to decommission small peak-power plants in Glenwood Landing and West Babylon to help make up the gap for the failure of the two power lines this summer, officials disclosed at a LIPA trustees meeting Wednesday morning.

One of the failures involves a power cable owned by the New York Power Authority called Y-49. The cable failed Aug. 6, the fourth time in the past year, utility officials disclosed Wednesday. The Y-49 line has a capacity of 637 megawatts, nearly double the capacity of the Caithness power plant in Yaphank.

Another line between the LIPA and Con Ed system known as Y-50 that provides 656 megawatts of capacity has also failed, officials also disclosed.

The Neptune cable between Long Island and New Jersey was reduced to just over half its 660-megawatt capacity after a transformer failed earlier this year. It won't be back online until early 2022.

Off-island transmission lines, including the Cross Sound Cable and the Norwalk to Northport cables, which remain fully operable, provide around 40% of Long Island's power.

The Y-49 and Y-50 cables could be out for a month to 10 weeks, officials said.

PSEG chief operating officer Dan Eichhorn said in a presentation to the LIPA board that the utility has enough power to supply Long Island.

But with the high heat this week, there will be a "heightened state of awareness" about "making sure we have power for Long Island," Eichhorn said.

The utility has programs to reduce electricity usage, including one that automatically raises the thermostats of 31,000 volunteer customers and two others aimed at commercial demand.

If necessary, PSEG may activate two other programs to reduce demand further, PSEG said in a statement to Newsday.

Eichhorn said he expected Long Island to hit a peak usage of between 4,800 megawatts and 5,000 megawatts over the next few days, with demand tailing off Friday night.

The system has a peak generating capacity of 5,948 megawatts, he said.

The record peak for Long Island, reached in 2011, was 5,915 megawatts.

"We're in good shape for this weekend," as well as Thursday and Friday, he said.

Eichhorn blamed the problems in part on age of the cables — Y-50 was built in 1978, and Y-49 in 1990 — as well as design issues.

LIPA chief Tom Falcone called the timing of the problems "frustrating … We've had a run of bad luck."

Falcone stressed that LIPA had "adequate resources" to get through the peak summer period.

Failure of the lines and the need for backup from existing power plants come as LIPA is moving to back away from fossil fuel plants such as NYPA's Holtsville unit.

In April, the Holtsville plant experienced a "generator failure that requires major repairs to restore plant operation," according to a LIPA resolution passed Wednesday.

NYPA had planned to mothball the unit, but LIPA's decision is a life raft.

LIPA said it consulted with PSEG and determined the plant’s capacity "would be beneficial to assure system reliability for the next several years in light of the recent outage experience among LIPA’s inter-ties with neighboring utilities."

Under the terms of LIPA's proposed agreement for the Holtsville plant, LIPA would have the authority to access the plant’s available capacity when needed, such as at summer peak times. At other times, NYPA can sell the energy on wholesale markets.

The 150-megawatt plant, in service since 1994, had been under contract to LIPA until 2014, when LIPA discontinued the agreement.

The payment of $67 million would "reimburse NYPA for its actual repair costs" and purchase the plant’s capacity for a 62-month term," beginning in November, LIPA said.

Ratepayers will cover the $67 million payment through their power supply charge over the 62 months.

LIPA didn’t say how much the costs will increase monthly bills for customers.

LIPA is converting to all-green energy over the next two decades.

LIPA has disclosed plans to retire and mothball power plants on Long Island owned by National Grid, the contracts for which expire in 2028.

Under state plans, all carbon-emitting plants must be decommissioned by 2040.

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