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Brookhaven Town  to wait on Yaphank power plant vote

An artist's rendering of the proposed Caithness II

An artist's rendering of the proposed Caithness II power plant, which would be built next to the existing Caithness plant in Yaphank. Credit: TRC Environmental Corp.

The Brookhaven Town Board will wait at least two weeks before voting on a plan for a 600-megawatt gas-fired power plant in Yaphank that opponents say may not be required to meet Long Island’s energy needs.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said Tuesday during a 2 1/2-hour public hearing at Brookhaven Town Hall that town attorneys will compile a “findings” report on issues related to the proposal before the town board votes.

He did not say when the board will vote on the project. Town officials will accept written comments about the plan for 15 days, Romaine said.

Caithness Long Island, which built a 350-megawatt plant near Zorn Boulevard in Yaphank in 2009, wants to build a second plant on the same property. Caithness officials cited state and federal studies showing a need for new, energy-efficient power plants to replace aging facilities on Long Island and upstate New York.

Caithness president Ross Ain said the proposed plant, to be called Caithness II, would produce $75 million in savings for Long Island Power Authority ratepayers and would serve as a backup for solar and wind energy facilities.

“We need to have more flexible fossil fuel plants,” he said at the hearing. “This plant will be a critical element in LIPA’s toolbox.”

Questioned by Romaine, Ain acknowledged that LIPA officials are not seeking bids for new power plants. Ain said Caithness II would sell power to the New York Independent System Operator, or ISO, which manages the state’s wholesale energy markets.

Most speakers at the hearing questioned the need for the new plant and said they worried about its impact on air and groundwater quality. The proposed plant is opposed by Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Long Island members of the Sierra Club.

“There’s great concern about fossil fuel plants,” said Jeff Kagan of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization. “If we continue to ignore the environment we live in, we will not have an island.”

The town board in 2014 had approved a special permit for a previous proposal for a 750-megawatt Caithness II plant in Yaphank. That plant was never built because PSEG Long Island, which manages the energy grid for LIPA, said it was not needed.

However, Caithness is asking Brookhaven to modify the 2014 permit to allow use of new technology that the company said would make the new plant smaller and more efficient. Caithness officials said the new plant would use General Electric’s “H class” technology, which they said would produce fewer emissions than GE’s “F class” technology used in the existing Caithness plant.

Caithness II received support from some residents and officials of the Longwood board of education and Gordon Heights Fire Department, who said the community would benefit from payments in lieu of taxes generated by the plant. Ain said those payments would be “north of $10 million a year.”

Coram Civic Association vice president Christopher Reilly said the plant was “an absolute necessity,” citing the potential for lower energy bills. His comment was applauded by dozens of people in the audience.

But opponents said environmental concerns outweighed the plant’s potential benefits.

“Do not be duped by the bait and switch tactics,” said resident Andrea Barracca of Middle Island. “This is not a simple transaction.”

Romaine said town attorneys also will consider whether the town board should vote on Caithness II without prior approvals from state agencies such as the Public Service Commission. But he acknowledged that Caithness could build the new plant based on the permit approved four years ago.

“Caithness has the authority to build Caithness II,” Romaine said. “They could build the plant now — right now.”

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