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Two of LIPA and PSEG's biggest power decisions still remain lightning rods

The Caithness power plant facility in Yaphank is

The Caithness power plant facility in Yaphank is shown in this undated photo. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

LIPA and PSEG's biggest power decisions in the past two years continue to draw sharp criticism as development of two large solar arrays in Shoreham move forward and a large gas-fired plant eyed for Yaphank remains stalled.

Battle lines were evident on both fronts last week as supporters of the shelved Caithness II power plant rallied at the site of the existing Caithness plant to demand the state get behind the natural gas-fired plant. Meanwhile, Shoreham residents were back in court hoping a judge would allow them to again argue a case to reject a 60-acre solar array in their neighborhood. The judge dismissed most claims in the suit last month.

Advocating for Caithness II, a 750-megawatt plant with an estimated cost of $3 billion-plus, state Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville) said at last week's rally that it's "no longer acceptable in the post-Sandy era" to get about half the Island's power from off-island sources, primarily through undersea cables. He pointed to the proposed plant's distance from waterways and height above sea level in saying, "This plant can produce power when the worst happens."

Pro-environmental angle

Former LIPA trustee Neal Lewis, an environmentalist, also pushed for the plant before 200 supporters from schools and fire districts, unions and Caithness officials last week, saying it's needed to advance environmental aims to reduce greenhouse gases, because renewable sources alone can't meet ambitious state goals on emissions.

Combined cycle plants such as Caithness, at which heat from energy production is used to turn steam turbines for even more generation, burn more efficiently than older plants.

But PSEG Long Island is sticking to its projection that Long Island won't need major new power sources until at least 2024. The utility is in the process of an 18-month review of all LIPA power sources.

"When we performed an analysis last year, we determined that no new power was required until 2022," PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said. "However, based on the most recent load forecast, that prediction is now beyond 2024."

More important from a rate perspective, he said, "Our initial analysis showed that a Caithness II plant would increase rates for our customers approximately 6 percent in the first full year of operation." A 6 percent rate hike would add $8.92 to the average residential monthly bill, PSEG estimated.

In Shoreham, residents were banking on the courts to stop a new 60-acre solar array on what is now a sod farm while a separate project at a golf course across the road awaits approvals to start construction in April.

Surveyors were seen staking out the sod-farm last week with construction expected to start any day, according to lawyers for developer sPower. Land for the project officially transferred from DeLalio Sod Farms to sPower last week, they said.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti on Friday denied residents a temporary restraining order that could have blocked construction, after Farneti previously threw out most residents' claims in their original lawsuit. Residents had argued that the project failed to get the proper environmental review, that its LIPA contract was invalid, and that it was an eyesore that would lower property values.

Emotions ran high in the courtroom as Farneti questioned residents' lawyer Fred Eisenbud, who pointed to a new commercial solar code in Brookhaven as a model for how open space should be maintained for such projects. Farneti at one point threatened to clear the gallery when residents called out comments, and he ejected one person for laughing.

"We're all going to take a hit on property values," said Mike Fischetti, who lives near the farm, said from his driveway last week. "Ask anybody around here. They don't want it."

Another solar array plan

At the Tallgrass Golf Course, which is scheduled to become a separate 127-acre solar array farm, developer Invenergy recently filed a land-use application saying the project will employ about 200 people during its yearlong construction. Business development manager Brad Pnazek said he anticipates tax payments to be $800,000 to $900,000 a year. Current owner DeLalio Sod Farms pays just over $78,000 in taxes.

The project, on land now zoned residential, won't be seen by residents, in construction and after completion, because of a buffer of vegetation and trees. The company offered to build a $3 million clubhouse for use as a community center, but civic groups have initially balked. "We don't want to get bribed," Fischetti said.

PSEG is expected to release the report of its recommendations for the LIPA power system by mid-2016.

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