BY JOANNE PILGRIM
February 18, 2015 – 7:33pm

 

A newspaper report last week that PSEG Long Island is to seek proposals for new electric power-generation facilities in Montauk unleashed more criticism this week of the utility company, which angered East Hampton residents last year when it installed high-voltage electric lines through residential areas from East Hampton Village to Amagansett. Diesel-powered generating substations in Montauk were decommissioned several years ago.

However, Jeffrey Weir, a PSEG Long Island spokesman, said yesterday that although PSEG is contemplating issuing a request for proposals on the South Fork, the exact location of new plants had not been determined and may not be specified in the call for proposals, which is likely to go out soon.

At a meeting last year at East Hampton Town Hall attended by dozens of unhappy residents, David Daly, PSEG’s president and chief operating officer, had described a “very serious reliability problem” in power delivery in eastern East Hampton Town. The new transmission lines were needed, he said, to ensure reliable power to 8,000 PSEG Long Island customers here, including in Montauk.

The outcry against the new lines and larger utility poles resulted, after a review of PSEG’s procedures by Audrey Zibelman, the head of the New York State Department of Public Service, in a plan for the department to work with PSEG to ensure that affected communities in the future “fully understand the magnitude” of projects, are aware of alternatives, and “have a meaningful opportunity to provide input.”

But in a press release this week, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who has been sharply critical of PSEG, expressed disappointment that local officials had not been informed about the plans that were reported to involve Montauk.

Along with Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and several others, Mr. Thiele had criticized PSEG’s “Utility 2.0” long-range plan, unveiled last year, for a lack of specifics regarding long-range plans for the South Fork, which PSEG has called “the highest load growth region on Long Island.”

“PSEG-LI, unencumbered by any real oversight, again has decided to undertake a major initiative on the East End without any discussion or consultation with the public or local elected officials,” Mr. Thiele said in the release. “This same arrogant approach led to the unnecessary public controversy with transmission lines in East Hampton Town. After that debacle, we had been promised increased public involvement, but PSEG-LI has again failed to deliver.”

“First, the existing ‘peaker’ plants in Montauk were closed. Then, LIPA clumsily moved forward with a transmission line in East Hampton because more power was needed. Then PSEG-LI canceled a renewable wind project off of Block Island because the power was unnecessary,” Mr. Thiele wrote. “Now we need more power sources in the South Fork because there is not enough power.”

Mr. Weir said yesterday that there would be discussion with local officials should additional power generating sites be proposed for East Hampton Town. “We are going to open that dialogue up,” he said.

In its Utility 2.0 plan, PSEG estimated that additional electrical transmission reinforcements would 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 could help provide the needed power here, the plan says.

But at a hearing on the long-range plan, Mr. Thiele noted that figures reflecting the company’s total investment were listed as “to be determined.”

East Hampton Town recently set a goal of meeting all of its own energy needs with renewable energy by 2020, and meeting all the town’s energy needs that way by 2030. The town had approved several possible solar plants on town properties, which could have been created through a LIPA program, but the power authority has put that initiative on hold.

While expressing support for the utility’s stated goal of attaining future energy sustainability, Mr. Cantwell and East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. wrote in a letter to PSEG that “we do have a number of questions. . . . The discussion must be public and transparent,” they said.

“There was no public participation in that environmental review process,” Mr. Cantwell said at the Utility 2.0 hearing on the high-voltage line installation, “and we can’t let that happen again.” The blueprint for future utility projects, he said, should include “local input in any capital improvement that might be planned.”

The high-voltage lines that have been installed are not yet in use because of an ongoing court case over a stop-work order issued by the town for work at an Old Stone Highway, Amagansett, substation. The town claims the utility needed permits for the work while PSEG challenges that assertion.