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LIPA pursues possible Suffolk power plant

LIPA officials are looking into building a 706-megawatt

LIPA officials are looking into building a 706-megawatt gas plant near the Caithness natural gas plant in Yaphank. Credit: Newsday, 2010 / John Paraskevas

ALBANY -- The Long Island Power Authority on Wednesday announced a grab bag of new energy projects that could land a new power plant in Yaphank or Shoreham and a slew of new green-energy projects islandwide by 2018.

LIPA will ask its board of trustees Thursday to give it the go-ahead to begin negotiating with the two gas-plant developers -- one for a 377-megawatt natural-gas plant at the site of the shuttered Shoreham nuclear plant or one for a 706-megawatt facility beside the new Caithness plant in Yaphank. A megawatt powers about 800 homes.

Paul DeCotis, LIPA's vice president for power markets, said in a briefing Wednesday the additional capacity of the plants would increase bills by up to 2.5 percent by the time one or the other comes online by 2018. LIPA will choose only one of the two projects.

LIPA this month approved a 15-year contract to continue to use National Grid plants across Long Island -- a contract valued at more than $241 million a year for 3,700 megawatts. That contract gives LIPA the ability to significantly upgrade the plants. The so-called "re-powerings" could cost LIPA as much as $2 billion, depending on whether it goes forward with them, as the state recommends in an energy plan released this week.

LIPA wouldn't release the cost to ratepayers for any new plant, but by comparison the original 350-megawatt Caithness plant had a total contract value of more than $1.6 billion.

LIPA also unveiled a plan to increase solar, wind and other green energy sources by up to 400 megawatts by 2018 -- an apparent nod to groups that have pushed hard for the authority to use more renewable energy.

By next July, it will solicit contracts for another 100 megawatts of solar energy via a feed-in tariff program, which pays companies over 20-year contracts as it would any other power producers, for solar arrays they put on roofs or open space.

A portion of the solar program will be committed to the East End to reduce peak energy demand and forestall the need to expand transmission upgrades there, DeCotis said.

LIPA will also commit to another 20 megawatts of feed-in tariff energy using fuel cells, small-scale wind power or other renewable sources, DeCotis said. And LIPA said it will put out a renewable energy request for proposals for another 280 megawatts, one that could include an offshore wind farm.

Environmentalists weren't appeased by the promise of green energy, noting the Deepwater Wind Farm didn't make the cut.

"It's lip service," said Adrienne Esposito, head of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. She said the chance of a 280-megawatt wind farm is "like giving a starving village a crust of bread. It's pathetic."

LIPA also plans to immediately allow for its popular solar Pioneer rebate program to apply to those who are leasing their system. Companies such as SunRun have been requesting the change, which would allow for third-party companies to receive the rebate, and greatly reduce the cost of entry for home or small-business solar systems.

"LIPA's decision supports consumer choice, makes solar more attainable for families of all incomes and demonstrates a strong commitment to job creation," Sunrun co-chief executive Lynn Jurich said Wednesday.

LIPA in the current bidding process did not select a 900-megawatt wind farm proposed by Deepwater Wind off the coast of Rhode Island. The project had a price tag of between $4 billion and $5 billion, the company said, adding that it was "competitive" with gas plant power costs.

DeCotis said the Shoreham plant, by Japan-based JPower, and the Caithness plant, were tied in the utility analysis of power projects. Negotiations will determine which wins out in coming months.Both would require additional gas capacity to their sites -- JPower proposes extending an existing pipeline in the Long Island Sound east to Shoreham.

DeCotis noted that while none of the projects currently has a firm contract obligating the authority to build it, "We can't not do anything. We have to do something," given the projected need for 600 to 900 megawatts on the system by the decade's end.

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