Energy Plan Leaves Officials in the Dark

Millions for ‘reinforcements’ but no specifics

PSEG Long Island, which recently added Shelter Island to the list of towns where its work has stirred up displeasure and controversy, has announced a new plan for the South Fork that falls short of details, according to Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Mayor Paul Rickenbach of East Hampton Town and Village.

PSEG has called the South Fork “the highest-load-growth region on Long Island.” Its new proposal, called Utility 2.0, aims at improving energy efficiency as well as developing renewable energy sources in order to reduce peak demand. It proposes investing up to $200 million between 2015 and 2018, with no effect on ratepayers until after 2016.

Gordian Raacke, a member of the town’s energy sustainability committee and the director of Renewable Energy Long Island, wrote in a letter to the editor this week that the plan “fails to offer a vision” of a transition from carbon-intensive energy sources to renewable energy, even as the town has adopted a goal of meeting 100 percent of the community’s energy needs with renewable sources.

Mr. Raacke and others spoke at a required “technical conference” and hearing on the long-range PSEG plan, held in Stony Brook last Thursday. The utility has promised to hold “community outreach” meetings across Long Island, specifically on the South Fork and in the Rockaways, “communities that we target for investment,” according to PSEG. As of yesterday, no dates had been announced.

In a joint letter to the company, Supervisor Cantwell and Mayor  Rickenbach asked that a meeting take place in East Hampton, to give the public “the opportunity to understand, participate in, and comment on” the plan.

PSEG’s work here on a 6.2-mile overhead electrical distribution line, which began in late winter, has engendered numerous complaints about unsightly poles and high-voltage wires on residential streets, and a lawsuit by a group of residents over possible environmental effects.

The work, between a substation in the village and another in Amagansett, is needed, PSEG has said, to provide power in case the primary system goes down, and to meet peak demand. The installation of poles and lines is complete, but work on the Amagansett substation has been stalled since the spring, when the town issued a stop-work order asserting that PSEG had failed to obtain site plan approval for it. That matter is before a court.

A similar situation unfolded in North Hempstead, and most recently on Shelter Island, where residents oppose the development of a new substation.

In comments at last Thursday’s hearing, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. concurred with the two East Hampton officials, pointing out that the PSEG plan lacks details about specific projects planned here. Figures reflecting the company’s “total investment” and expected annual energy savings and demand reduction were not provided, Mr. Thiele said, only listed as “to be determined.”

In a section called “South Fork Peak Load Growth,” PSEG says it has determined that additional electrical transmission “reinforcements” will be needed here, with $97 million in “conventional infrastructure” improvements required by 2017 and another $197 million needed through 2022.

The estimated investment would cover “primarily new underground transmission cables and substation work,” according to the plan. Solar and other alternative power generation projects, which are being developed, can help to provide the needed power, the plan says.

While expressing support for its goal of energy sustainability, the two East Hampton officials’ letter to PSEG said that “we do have a number of questions concerning the goal of constructing conventional infrastructure, transmission reinforcements, and cable projects . . . The discussion must be public and transparent.”

Also this week, opponents of the East Hampton transmission lines placed ads doubting the efficacy of the new poles and lines in a hurricane, and renewed calls for the backup system line to be buried.

In press releases and in the ad, Save East Hampton, a grassroots group, also called for East Hampton to receive some part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency money earmarked for energy resiliency and storm protection projects, to pay the estimated $24 million it would cost to put the lines underground.

In the ad, Save East Hampton asserts that the newly installed utility poles, designed to withstand winds of up to 130 miles per hour, are at risk of being blown down by a severe hurricane. “There have been 28 hurricanes along the Atlantic Ocean from 1995 to 2005 that have exceeded 133 [miles per hour],” the ad says.

According to National Weather Service hurricane records, winds here have not reached that strength. A peak gust of 130 miles per hour was reported at Block Island during Hurricane Carol in 1954, with gusts over the rest of the affected area of 100 to 125 miles per hour, while sustained winds of 91 miles per hour, with a gust to 121 miles per hour reported on Block Island, were recorded in Massachusetts during the Hurricane of 1938.

Citing the many risks to the East End during and after a devastating storm — an inability to evacuate over limited, crowded roads, sustained power outages, and the possibility of widespread wreckage blocking repair crews’ access and approaches to essential services such as the hospital — the Save East Hampton ad insists that the town, at high risk, should move ahead of other communities to receive a share of the FEMA funds available for projects such as burying electric lines.

“Governor Cuomo’s new utility PSEG/LIPA has spent our high rates putting up a 6.2-mile poorly planned above-ground transmission line with monster poles bisecting East Hampton that is inadequate ‘backup’ power,” the ad says.

Save East Hampton advocates an alternative, a 4.4-mile underground transmission line which, it says, “would profoundly increase the safety of all residents and tourists in East Hampton during the next big hurricanes.”

The group asks about the criteria for distribution of the FEMA money. “Are a designated high risk for hurricanes, shelter in place with only one evacuation route, inaccessibility to a hospital and being surrounded on three sides by tidal waters priorities for funding to reduce risks and increase safety?” one release asks. It also wonders how the funding decisions are made.

According to PSEG’s Utility 2.0 plan, a $700 million FEMA grant to address “hardening and resiliency” of the electrical system, following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy, will be used to repair damaged substations and lines as well as to install equipment that will reduce the number of  customers impacted by a single-line outage.

However, the power company failed to meet a July deadline for rollout of a new $30 million computer system to track and report utility repair work during storms, forgoing a $1 million LIPA incentive and earning criticism from a New York State Department of Public Service official, who called not having the system in place “unacceptable.” PSEG officials have said the system, now running concurrently with an older system that was considered inadequate after Hurricane Sandy, will begin operating independently in August.