Monday, September 1, 2014

PSEG | Long Island Utility 2.0 Plan (Comments)

We signed up to speak at the Hearing in East Hampton that started at 5 pm, but were not able to wait beyond 8 pm. We sent the following comments to the Secretary of the NY State Department of Public Services.


We have reviewed the PSEG Long Island Utility 2.0 Plan as posted July 1, 2014. Our overall comment is that we find nothing in the plan about the following important topics:
  • The impact of the energy generation plans on local communities on Long Island,
  • Cooperation with local officials in the implementation of the plans,
  • Respect for local environmental and land use provisions.
These omissions are especially serious in light of PSEG's record during the past year in expanding the electricity-transmission capacity of New Jersey and Long Island, NY. It does not seem to have given any weight in this task to local rights, regulations or responsibilities, and the risks to safety that its expansion creates.

The tradition-proud leaderships of some villages in New Jersey and New York are shocked by the way PSEG has recently:
  • Ignored long-standing local environmental and planning processes,
  • Provided little or no notice to the either local governments or affected individuals, before installing poles
  • Installed super-tall poles (70 feet long, says the NY Times), widely viewed as eyesores, that  have been treated with a toxic chemical, Penta or PCP (Pentachlorophenol) an organochlorine compound primarily used for preservation of wooden utility poles. There are no permissible residential uses. The manufacturer says it may be fatal if inhaled or absorbed through skin, harmful if swallowed, and irritating to skin, eye and respiratory tract. It can cause cardiovascular and other effects. PSEG workers who put in the poles are exposed to Penta through inhalation and skin contact. Residents are exposed through contact with ground around the wood, or drinking water contaminated by Penta through leakage into wells. U.S. EPA classifies Penta as a "probable carcinogen".
  • Reduced the attractiveness of properties and therefore their values,
  • Added to existing 26 kV (kilovolt) lines substantially heavier 69 kV lines above ground, posing new storm hazards,
  • Has proscribed local first responders from removing fallen wires, which run in front of the Emergency Services Building in East Hampton. This may halt the ability of local first responders to reach victims in emergencies, with the possibility of long delays in providing emergency services in hurricanes and storms.
Herewith a few notes about three communities from the growing recent record of insults to community planning and regulations - Ridgewood, NJ; Port Washington, NY; and East Hampton, NY.

Ridgewood, NJ (August-November 2013). Ridgewood Mayor Paul Aronsohn complained of PSEG's installing 78 new wooden utility poles, 15 feet higher than standard poles. Residents were opposed to the height of the poles and the new hazards and the project was halted. In July, a tweeter wrote: "If Ridgewood NJ hates the new poles, let them go w/out power next storm.” PSEG retweeted the message to 42,000 followers at @PSEGCares and other accounts. Ridgewood Mayor Aronsohn said the retweets “could be construed as a threat.” (Source: WCBS 880.)

Ridgewood's Mayor went to the NJ Board of Public Utilities (NJ BPU) in Trenton to stop the taller, higher-voltage utility poles. He noted that PSEG did not provide advance notice, was using higher-voltage lines without regard to the increased hazards in an emergency, and the poles would lower property values in a community where the median home price exceeds $700,000.

The bad news in November for Ridgewood was that NJ BPU ruled against Ridgewood. Its president, Robert Hanna, said he had "sympathy" for the citizens and the "aesthetic effect" of the project. But he didn't see the health and safety concerns.  Ridgewood's Mayor reiterated his call for underground lines:
The increasing frequency of destructive storms combined with the increasing demand for electricity suggests that the 'business-as-usual' approach — more poles with higher voltage — must be revisited.
The good news for Ridgewood was that NJ BPU agreed with the Village that PSEG had not given residents or village officials proper advance warning about the pending work:
  • Board of Public Utilities President Hanna observed that during Hurricane Sandy and other storms, NJ utilities had already been criticized for failure to update customers about mass outages. 
  • BPU noted that PSEG never secured required road permits from the Village of Ridgewood.
  • BPU Commissioner Joseph Fiordaliso said:
We’re not talking about rocket science here. You can short-circuit a lot of problems by communicating ... to the municipality and to the individuals who are going to be directly affected.
PSEG spokeswoman Karen Johnson, seemingly chastened, promised to communicate better in a November 2013 email:
This experience has reinforced to us the importance of communications with the communities in which we are building and upgrading facilities. We ... will continue to look at ways to improve the process to better assure that communities understand the rationale for projects and to allay any health and safety concerns in advance.
Port Washington, NY (April 2014).  PSEG installed 200 of the approximately 220 70-foot poles it planned along the five-mile project route to Great Neck. Ten percent of the overhead transmission wire was strung. Then a hearing was held. Residents reacted as follows:
  • We want to protect the identity of the town. The town should look good, and not ugly like this.
  • I’m petrified of this huge pole more than being without electricity.
  • It’s horrible. The issue is do it the right way, and give people the chance to pay... before you start putting it up
David Daly, PSEG-Long Island's president and CEO, told Port Washington that "There is no option to stop the project," and that the lines could be buried later, but the cost of millions more would be passed on to customers, "as long as you want to pay for it." Utilities can "do what they want", said Gerald A. Norlander of New York’s Utility Project, a consumer group. However, he said, the NY State Department of Public Service can place limits on them. As a result of community opposition, Governor Andrew Cuomo's office has asked the Department of Public Service to review the PSEG-Long Island project.

Judi Bosworth, the supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead, which includes the project route, wonders whether Hurricane Sandy recovery funds could be used: "It seems to me that burying the wires is something that could qualify, and we plan to make a strong case for that." Michael Meenan of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said hurricane money could be available if burying the lines would reduce the likelihood of future damage and was cost-efficient. 

East Hampton, April 2014.   In January, PSEG began installing 267 of the 70-foot-long utility poles to cover six-and-a-half miles of transmission from East Hampton Village to Amagansett. The project halted in April when East Hampton Town issued a stop-work order at the Amagansett substation. PSEG failed to obtain site-plan approval or a building permit. PSEG filed a temporary restraining order, which was denied. It also filed for a permanent injunction against the town - decision still awaited at the State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in Brooklyn. 

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said East Hampton would not borrow money to bury the lines, but wanted PSEG to give East Hampton the same deal as the Town of Southampton, where PSEG paid for burying 23/33 kV transmission lines by adding a charge to customers’ bills. Cantwell said:
We wanted to be involved in the energy-alternative process, and not be handed a fait accompli. ... There could have been a better job of presenting this to the public for discussion, and perhaps alternatives could have worked out in advance of this happening.
Some Southampton customers have not paid the extra charge and PSEG has sued Southampton Town for the $200,000 in allegedly unpaid charges. 

The Utility 2.0 Plan

East Hampton residents, such as Debra Foster, have organized a "Save East Hampton" group around the “Bury the Lines” issue. We attended the hearing because of her work bringing it to our attention. Her groups entirely right that the Utility 2.0 Plan does not incorporate the promise made by PSEG after the BPU reprimand in 2013. It should do so and PSEG should respect the promise.

This is not our first rodeo. We were at the 820 mW Shoreham plant in the 1980s, protesting the folly of nuclear power in an area where there was no safe escape route in the event of an emergency and no safe exit for nuclear waste. The venerable Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) was founded in 1911 by Ellis Phillips, an engineer. LILCO spent 20 years building the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, but never gave enough credence to community opposition. Ultimately, public pressure brought Shoreham and LILCO to an end in 1989, under Governor Mario Cuomo. The $5.5 billion plant was eventually dismantled before it ever operated.

So it should not be an impossible dream for East Hampton residents to take down all of the 267 poles and bury the lines. The problem is that LIPA and the Governor make environmental commitments to customers that PSEG then mocks. East Hampton has been celebrated in the Governor's Comprehensive Energy Vision as a leader in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. The Town should be treated like a leader.

PSEG's Utility 2.0 plan seems to be moving PSEG toward building seven new fossil-fuel power plants on Eastern Long Island, is inconsistent with decisions by local residents. East Hampton has pledged itself to be 100 percent independent of fossil fuel by 2020, and 100 percent dependent instead on renewable energy - solar, wind, geothermal, batteries. Utility 2.0 should be redesigned to be consistent with East Hampton Town's own plans. 

We urge FEMA to finance the removal of the poles and burial of the transmission wires, and we ask PSEG and the Town and other levels of government to participate in a joint effort to increase public safety and save East Hampton by burying electric, telephone and cable wires.

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