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State PSC wades into dispute over East Hampton cable

Workers plant a new utility pole at the

Workers plant a new utility pole at the intersection of Gingerbread Lane and Toilsome Lane in East Hampton on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Some local residents are opposed to the new utility poles because they feel the poles are dangerous and unsightly. Credit: Brad Penner

The chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission invoked Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's name as she waded into a controversial East Hampton cable project Friday, even as work on the high-voltage line continued.

In a letter to PSEG Long Island president David Daly, PSC chairwoman Audrey Zibelman said the governor's office had asked the Department of Public Service to review the project, which has been denounced by neighbors as unsightly and potentially dangerous. Residents want work stopped and the line buried.

Zibelman commended PSEG for addressing concerns of East Hampton officials and residents, and suggested the company work to "minimize" costs of the ongoing construction project while alternatives to the oversized poles and high-voltage wires are considered.

East Hampton residents and officials met with PSEG on Friday to devise alternatives to the overhead cable on poles up to 65 feet high, and how moving the project underground could be financed.

Zibelman requested that PSEG provide the agency with a timeline of when studies of alternatives would be complete, and "what steps can be taken to ensure summer reliability at [the] least cost to all ratepayers."

Asked if the Zibelman would condone suspending construction, PSC spokesman James Denn said, "At this time we are gathering facts and urging PSEG-LI to work constructively toward an amicable solution with local officials." The Department of Public Service has "review and recommend" authority in overseeing PSEG Long Island as part of Cuomo's LIPA reform legislation.

Jeff Weir, a PSEG Long Island spokesman, said the company has reviewed the idea of using mobile generators to help meet the big summer electric demand expected in East Hampton, as an alternative to finishing the overhead line. The cable project already underway is projected to be completed by the end of May specifically to address that need.

Weir said PSEG determined it would needed 18 to 20 mobile generators in the town, burning some 60,000 gallons of diesel a day, to meet projected peak-power needs. The cost of the generators, Weir said, was more than the cost of continuing the current project, and it was decided by PSEG the temporary power was "not really an effective way to run a utility," he said. So construction on the current line will continue.

One little-discussed reason for the new line, PSEG acknowledged, is that National Grid last year retired three diesel generators in Montauk. The generators provided up to six megawatts of capacity, enough to power upwards of 4,000 homes. PSEG Long Island has around 8,000 customers in the town of East Hampton. Weir said other factors, including redundancy and increased reliability were among other reasons for installing the new line.

Weir said PSEG told officials and residents at the Friday meeting that the utility was "absolutely committed" to burying the power lines so long as funding can be secured. A statement from residents Saturday said the company also committed to removing the poles if that money comes through.

That funding could require a new fee on town ratepayers' bills, similar to one assessed in Southampton town for an underground line.

"We are going to get as creative as possible in trying to get the right funding," he said.

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