The state Department of Public Service has taken several steps to help resolve a contentious power-cable project dispute in East Hampton, including eyeing "alternative generation" in the area to help meet what PSEG Long Island has said is an urgent reliability issue by this summer.
The measures build on the state agency's previous involvement in the project, which came last month at the urging of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. It also raises questions about the agency's authority in the matter and who will pay for it, given that the affiliated Public Service Commission has only "review and recommend" authority over the utility, not formal jurisdiction.
In an April 15 letter to East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, DPS chief executive Audrey Zibelman said the PSC has begun an "independent review" to determine the region's reliability need, given PSEG's claim that it needs the 23,000-volt cable in place to avoid potential blackouts this summer. The review is expected to be completed by April 30, she wrote.
The department also will review how much more it would cost to bury the 6.2-mile power line -- an alternative that residents have called for since PSEG began installing taller utility poles in February.
PSEG has already placed all of the 267 large poles associated with the cable project, and strung cable on about half of the route. East Hampton last week served PSEG with a stop-work order at a LIPA Amagansett substation, where the project ends, delaying its completion. PSEG on Monday unsuccessfully tried to get a temporary restraining order.
In addition to those reviews, Zibelman said the DPS "will look at alternative generation in the area surrounding East Hampton as a possible option to ensure reliability."
Residents have complained that LIPA's largest power supplier, National Grid, last year shuttered three diesel generators in Montauk, which may have heightened the need for the transmission line. PSEG has said other factors contributed to that need.
Jeff Weir, a PSEG Long Island spokesman, said, "We always welcome comments from the Department of Public Service and we believe that they're asking the right questions." He noted that the projects being evaluated by DPS "enhance the reliability and resiliency of the electric service for our customers in the Town of East Hampton and the Town of North Hempstead," an allusion to another cable project that has raised the ire of Port Washington residents.
"That said," he added, "we stand ready to underground the transmission lines in both towns, provided those towns fund . . . [the work] at their own expense without any increased cost to the rest of Long Island's ratepayers."