An aerial view of the power plant in Port Jefferson.

An aerial view of the power plant in Port Jefferson. Credit: National Grid

Margot Garant is mayor of the Village of Port Jefferson

In these environmentally conscious times, the mantra of our age is reduce, recycle, reuse. Why not power plants?

Modernizing Long Island's old steam-driven turbine plants, including the one in Port Jefferson, can offer big advantages over building new ones. It's a regional solution for securing future sources of electricity that are clean, economical, reliable and safe.

This retooling would replace older, dirtier and less efficient steam plants with new, cleaner and more efficient facilities at existing plants using infrastructure now in place.

"Backyard repowering" - essentially building new electrical plants on the sites of old ones - isn't new. It's been promoted for years by energy experts, environmentalists and elected officials. A confluence of events makes such efforts timely. For one thing, the Long Island Power Authority is reviewing energy-supplier contracts. There is pressure to create greater ratepayer value from the taxes paid on five large National Grid plants. And of course - remember our mantra - there is strong support for reducing environmental impacts and reusing industrial brownfields.

Newsday recently reported the cost to repower the Port Jefferson plant at between $614 million and $685 million. At about the same initial cost as the Caithness Energy plant that opened in 2009 in Yaphank, a repowered Port Jefferson plant would provide similar efficiencies and environmental benefits, and possibly more power. But a repowered Port Jefferson plant could provide additional benefits and savings that Caithness cannot.

Most of us agree that generating energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind is desirable. But repowering is the best way to attain greater overall system efficiency, increase capacity and reliability, and cut emissions on a large scale. Just look at Queens, where it was recently announced that an old 600-megawatt former Con Ed plant will be repowered with a state-of-the-art 1,040-megawatt facility built right on the old plant's property, creating 700 jobs and a host of other benefits.

For half a century, Port Jefferson has accepted the many environmental and aesthetic drawbacks of hosting a power plant. In return, the school district, village, town and others have collected property taxes. In 2010, these payments were approximately $25 million.

Recently, National Grid and LIPA filed challenges to the current tax assessment on this and other plants. While we are certainly going to fight their attempt to reduce the tax bill on our plant by 90 percent, which would obviously have a huge impact on our schools and community, we've told them we are willing to discuss options, including possibly phasing in a reduction in taxes on the plan.

Modernizing the old plants presents an opportunity to solve this problem by creating greater value for the tax assessor as well as the utility. And it makes far more sense than creating new incentives to coax other communities into hosting a new plant. Siting new plants is often cumbersome and contentious, but Port Jefferson is ready to continue as a host. We should focus on increasing the value of the plants we already have rather than letting them slide into worthlessness. Existing plants remain important energy assets.

Environmentally, the repowering option avoids building new plants that can turn green space into industrial brownfields. And air quality receives a dual benefit when old, inefficient steam boilers are replaced with dual-cycle technology that would significantly lower emissions and increase efficiency. Modernization also avoids the costly cleanup that would be needed if sites like Port Jefferson are closed.

LIPA can realize all of these advantages by making a public commitment to enter into a long-term power purchase agreement with National Grid or any other company willing to acquire and repower Port Jefferson. It's the best solution for the community, electric investors, and anyone with an interest in the fate of the Earth.

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