State Rules for PSEG

Report on cost of burying transmission lines to come

    New electric transmission lines in East Hampton are needed to “ensure reliability of the electric system,” the State Department of Public Service has concluded following its review of projects here and in North Hempstead, where residents have called for the lines to be installed below rather than above ground.

    Because demand for electricity increases in summer, “both projects should be completed prior to the summer of 2014,” Michael Worden, a deputy director in the department, wrote to Audrey Zibelman, the department’s chief executive officer, in a memo.

    East Hampton and North Hempstead officials enlisted review by the department, which oversees the Long Island Power Authority and its local electric provider, PSEG Long Island, after the installation of high-voltage lines on poles up to twice as tall as those they are replacing, prompted an outcry about aesthetics and safety and questions about the need for the upgrades.

    The memo did not address requests by many residents for each of the power lines to be buried, but the department was to complete an analysis of the costs for doing so last week and is to issue a report to the towns.

    In a letter to East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, Ms. Zibelman said that although the upgrade was needed, “it is apparent that the outreach process that was used did not sufficiently inform the communities of the plans and viable alternatives, if alternatives existed.” She said that a plan due from PSEG Long Island on July 1 (the Utility 2.0 Plan) “is designed to be the first step toward creating a blueprint” for the Long Island electric grid which would address future needs and alternatives, such as energy from renewable energy sources.

    Ms. Zibelman said that PSEG is expected to develop a plan for including local communities in discussions of its plans, and that when new lines are required “the opportunity for under-grounding should be presented, along with appropriate cost information so the community can make an informed decision.”

    Also this week, state and local officials announced that they have written to the Long Island Power Authority and PSEG Long Island to urge that Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, if available, be used to cover the cost of putting the 6.2-mile transmission line in East Hampton underground.

    In a May 13 letter, Representative Tim Bishop, New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., and Supervisor Cantwell noted that a grant to LIPA of more than $1 billion is under consideration by FEMA for Hurricane Sandy and future storm damage mitigation.

    While the money is earmarked for reimbursement for expenses incurred as a result of Hurricane Sandy, including improvements to elements such as utility lines and substations that were damaged by the storm, it may be  possible that funds left over could be used on efforts to protect nondamaged infrastructure from future storms. In their May 13 letter to Ralph V. Suozzi, the chairman of the LIPA board, the officials urged that grant money be used “as efficiently as possible” and that leftover, unexpended funds be used for the underground installation of the East Hampton transmission lines.

    Another mechanism to underwrite the cost of placing electric lines underground has been proposed by Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle. They are sponsoring state legislation that would authorize New York towns to create underground utility improvement districts — tax districts similar to water or sewer districts. Establishing them would be subject to permissive referendum.

    The legislation would permit towns to petition LIPA to contribute at least half the “net incremental cost” — the difference in cost between installing lines above or underground. The utility would be required to contribute if it were jointly determined by the town and LIPA that any of three standards were applicable: that the project would avoid or eliminate an “unusually heavy concentration” of overhead lines, that the roadway that lines run along is “extensively used by the general public” or has a heavy volume of pedestrian or vehicle traffic, or whether the roadway passes through an area of “general public interest,” based upon open space, aesthetics, or on scenic, parks and recreation, historic, or farmland preservation resources.

    “This legislation will give towns and utilities another tool to safeguard their electrical infrastructure from future storm damage at a cost shared by the utility and the local community,” Senator LaValle said in a press release.

    “The Town of East Hampton and its residents have invested millions of dollars to preserve open space and residential neighborhoods. The economic future of our community depends on its natural and manmade beauty. Large overhead transmission line projects threaten this balance and private utility companies and New York State must support burying as the first alternative, not the last,” Supervisor Cantwell commented in the release.LIPA of more than $1 billion is under consideration by FEMA for Hurricane Sandy and future storm damage mitigation.

    While the money is earmarked for reimbursement for expenses incurred as a result of Hurricane Sandy, including improvements to elements such as utility lines and substations that were damaged by the storm, it may be  possible that funds left over could be used on efforts to protect nondamaged infrastructure from future storms. In their May 13 letter to Ralph V. Suozzi, the chairman of the LIPA board, the officials urged that grant money be used “as efficiently as possible” and that leftover, unexpended funds be used for the underground installation of the East Hampton transmission lines.

    Another mechanism to underwrite the cost of placing electric lines underground has been proposed by Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle. They are sponsoring state legislation that would authorize New York towns to create underground utility improvement districts — tax districts similar to water or sewer districts. Establishing them would be subject to permissive referendum.

    The legislation would permit towns to petition LIPA to contribute at least half the “net incremental cost” — the difference in cost between installing lines above or underground. The utility would be required to contribute if it were jointly determined by the town and LIPA that any of three standards were applicable: that the project would avoid or eliminate an “unusually heavy concentration” of overhead lines, that the roadway that lines run along is “extensively used by the general public” or has a heavy volume of pedestrian or vehicle traffic, or whether the roadway passes through an area of “general public interest,” based upon open space, aesthetics, or on scenic, parks and recreation, historic, or farmland preservation resources.

    “This legislation will give towns and utilities another tool to safeguard their electrical infrastructure from future storm damage at a cost shared by the utility and the local community,” Senator LaValle said in a press release.

    “The Town of East Hampton and its residents have invested millions of dollars to preserve open space and residential neighborhoods. The economic future of our community depends on its natural and manmade beauty. Large overhead transmission line projects threaten this balance and private utility companies and New York State must support burying as the first alternative, not the last,” Supervisor Cantwell commented in the release.