State Backs PSEG Cost Estimate

Public Service Department asks how $24 million project might be amortized

It would cost approximately $4 million per mile to put six miles of already installed PSEG Long Island high-voltage transmission lines underground from East Hampton Village to Amagansett, according to the State Department of Public Service. In a June 23 letter to East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, Audrey Zibelman, the department’s chief executive officer, also says the cost of burying the lines should be borne by the residents of the affected area, which could include not only those who live along the route but residents of a wider area, as determined by the town. She says that was the procedure followed not long ago in Southampton and that there is “no reason to deviate” from it.

After meeting earlier this year with East Hampton residents and officials who were alarmed about the aesthetic and environmental impacts of the overhead transmission lines being installed, PSEG said it would place the lines underground only if the town and/or its residents paid the entire cost. The utility estimated that cost at $4 million to $6 million per mile, and the matter was referred to the Department of Public Service.

In a June 27 response to Ms. Zibelman, officials including Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, Representative Tim Bishop, East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., and Mr. Cantwell said they were “deeply disappointed.”  They took issue with the characterization of what happened in Southampton when the Long Island Power Authority agreed to put an 8.7-mile transmission line between Southampton Village and Bridgehampton underground. In that case, the officials said, all of LIPA’s ratepayers shouldered 55 percent of the cost, and the local customers “receiving the visual benefit of placing the transmission line underground” paid for 45 percent.

“Why was East Hampton treated differently than Southampton?” the letter asks. “The report ignores any facts that do not support PSEG Long Island’s position,” the officials wrote. “New York could be the leader in providing an innovative approach to rebuilding the region’s energy infrastructure. Unfortunately, your report serves only the interests of the utility company and its shareholders. Long Islanders deserve better.”

Ms. Zibelman’s letter said she has asked PSEG for further detail on the costs of burying the lines, and how they might be amortized, and to provide the municipalities with information on alternatives that could mitigate the need for extending the transmission line — energy efficiency measures, the use of alternative energy sources, or other “innovative” actions.

The Public Service Department’s report also disappointed Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy, a group that has sued PSEG, alleging, among other things, that the installation of utility poles coated with pentachlorophenol, a wood preservative, has introduced toxins at an unacceptable level into the nvironment.  On that matter, Ms. Zibelman cites an opinion recently issued by the New York State Department of Health, which relied on an Environmental Protection Agency review of the toxicity of the chemical, called penta, and its determination that “its use in approved applications would not pose an ureasonable risk to humans or the environment.” The Health Department, the Public Service commissioner noted, has contacted the Department of Environmental Conservation about the possible misuse of penta around the poles, and PSEG Long Island has denied any post-purchase application of the chemical.

In an email, Helene Forst, LIBFRE’s chair, said Ms. Zibelman’s response was unsatisfactory given the expert opinions the group has solicited and submitted regarding penta, as well as on the impact of electromagnetic fields surrounding high-voltage wires. In a press release, LIBFRE says Ms. Zibelman “is relying on outdated and incomplete scientific information.”

The release cites one of the experts LIBFRE has consulted, Chris Busby, the scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk in Brussels, who said, “There is strong scientific evidence that living near high voltage power lines increases the risk not only of child leukemia and brain tumors, but also neurodegenerative disease in adults. There is indication that miscarriage and the rates of other diseases are also elevated.”

The overhead lines and penta-treated poles should be removed, the advocacy group believes, and the lines rerouted or buried at a cost to be fairly shared by PSEG ratepayers and stockholders. At the same time, the group has suggested “alternatives that will insure a resilient electric power supply” should be investigated.