As if LIPA doesn’t have enough on its plate worrying about the weather, it also has to plan its transition from Nat Grid to PSEG in 2014 as well as renegotiate its power supply agreement, which expires next year. That could affect the “legacy plants” like the antiquated ones in Northport and Port Jefferson, which rely on gas or fuel and aren’t as energy efficient as the new smaller plant such as Caithness in Yaphank but are vital to those communities’ tax base. LIPA also must wade through more than 40 proposals competing for a future share of the utility’s next generation of 2,500 megawatts of energy (on a typical hot day the Island consumes about 5,600, with some 600 to spare).
Among the ideas the board has to winnow down are a giant 400 megawatt large-scale battery, a proposed 200-turbine wind-farm off Rhode Island that could be hooked up to LI and a new gas-powered plant on Shoreham’s former nuclear site that would be connected to a pipeline from Connecticut.
Local environmentalists and energy watchdogs stress that solutions are needed now.
“Storms are a fact of life on Long Island,” says Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a nonprofit watchdog group. “But the new fact of life is that these storms will be increasing in intensity because of climate change. That’s science, that’s not theory. And LIPA needs to be planning for that in its energy choices and in its management preparedness.”
With that goal in mind her group is joining others like Gordian Raacke’s Renewable Energy Long Island to host a half-day conference on July 31 at the Long Island Association’s Melville office to promote offshore wind as part of the portfolio. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southamton) is the keynote speaker.
LIPA trustee member Neal Lewis, executive director of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College and a big proponent of cleaner energy, says that “LIPA is moving forward on some significant initiatives in terms of renewables and efficiency,” but declined to say which projects LIPA is favoring. The finalists are expected to be announced this fall.
“This is exactly LIPA’s test for the next five years and that test will be answered in September when they come up with the short list,” Esposito says. “Are they including large-scale renewables? Are they including cleaner, safer power? Are they looking to get us off our fossil fuel addiction? That’s exactly the questions that need to be answered.”
LIPA’s new program to foster small-scale solar panel projects, called the Feed-in Tariff, involves a contract paying a provider 22 cents a kilowatt hour for 20 years to facilitate financing. It already has 120 applicants since it began July 16.
“The industry has not changed so much but public sentiment has changed,” says Esposito, “and the industry is just now starting to play catch up.”
“It’s always difficult for people to understand that you need to change when there’s a big paradigm shift coming,” says Raacke, “because it’s easier to just do your business as usual than to do something new.”
The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 made Raacke realize that his personal demand for oil “when you pull up to the gas station, when you open your fridge” made him “part of the problem,” so he realized that he could “be part of the solution.”
Then he set about building his new home.
“I’m a civil engineer by training and my dream was always to build my own home, and of course I had to make it a super-insulated and super-energy efficient home,” he says.
After rebates and tax credits, he says it cost him about $6,000 to install the 2.6 kilowatt solar panels on his carport and another $6,000 for a solar-powered water heater attached to the roof. Typical homes on LI, he says, have the equivalent of a 4-foot hole in their wall where their cool (or hot) air goes, so he advises people to contact LIPA about a free energy audit, or to go to the LISHINES.org website for help in calculating solar panel requirements.
Raacke says that he wants LIPA to look to the future when it makes its decisions about meeting the Island’s energy needs.
“They could lock us into more fossil power, more business as usual, more last-century technology,” he says and that would be “a situation like Shoreham… That was a bad decision.”
On his recent LIPA bill he pointed out the 26 cents he was charged for the Shoreham settlement.
“We’re still paying for that,” he says, shaking his head and looking out his 19-foot-high window enclosing the “green room,” where he and his wife’s orange cat is lounging comfortably in a sofa chair. The outside temperature was in the 90s, but inside it was cool and there was no air conditioner.
“Harnessing energy delivered from the nearest star in our galaxy to us can create jobs and keep the money in the local economy!” smiles Raacke. He sees the silver lining in the present situation. “It’s not just a crisis, it’s a tremendous opportunity.”