Decision on IP power plant delayed
By JEFF LIPTON August 14, 2008
A decision by Long Island Power Authority about whether to purchase and then revamp the E.F. Barrett Power Plant in Island Park – a major power-producer on Long Island -has been postponed until the end of the year, officials said.
LIPA was originally expected to render its decision on the Barrett plant about three months ago, but is continuing to study data and the feasibility of such a move.
In December 2005 LIPA had worked out a proposed agreement to purchase the Barrett plant from KeySpan, which is now part of National Grid, with an eye toward repowering the more than 50-year-old plant. The Barrett plant is one of a handful being considered for repowering by LIPA.
“Through a mutual agreement between National Grid and LIPA, the date for the repowering decision has been pushed back to the end of the year to continue our analysis and due diligence,” LIPA President and CEO Kevin S. Law said last week. “LIPA is committed to delivering clean, safe, reliable and economical electric service to its customers. The study will determine if we can achieve these goals through repowering options at the proposed sites.” The main goal of the study is to assess the engineering, environmental and economic feasibility of repowering existing plants, the benefits of which include greater efficiency, increased capacity and reduced emission rates.
Repowering involves incorporating new technology with old technology – particularly by converting to a primarily gas-based system that utilizes combustion turbine engines and waste heat for energy – to produce more efficient, cleaner power. Repowering may also involve building a brand-new plant.
Repowering Barrett would reduce its pollution output by 90 percent while significantly increasing the plant’s efficiency, said officials, adding that the potential benefits for ratepayers would be in the hundreds of millions.
Nassau County Legislator Jeff Toback (D-Oceanside) said he sees the postponement of LIPA’s decision until around December 2008 as a positive signal.
“I take it as a good sign,” said Toback. “These deals are so complicated and have so much red tape and bureaucracy involved. If they were not interested in the plant, then the deadline would come and go and they would take no action. This is a tremendous decision and it takes time to get it done right.”
However, Legislator Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) said she was “a little disappointed” that LIPA is dragging its feet on a decision.
“I was hoping to know in June that the plant has been selected for repowering,” she said. “I do respect the opinions of the LIPA Board and understand the reasoning for putting it off. I’m hoping that they are still considering the Barrett Power Plant for repowering.”
The property on which the plant is operating has a large footprint, she said, giving it the ability to add on new equipment without infringing on adjacent property. It also has a natural gas pipeline underneath the property so it’s already equipped with resources, making it a prime candidate for repowering. She said during major blackouts, Barrett is one of the first plants to come back on line.
Officials said repowering the old plant would produce cleaner air and water, replacing the outdated equipment with state-of-the-art equipment making the plant more efficient to run.
Repowering would also create many construction jobs, said Toback. “It’s a win-win,” he said, adding that any rumors that the plant could be shut down or relocated if it’s not purchased by LIPA are probably not true. “I just don’t believe that’s an option,” he said.
The plant also is a major contributor to school district taxes, relieving much of the burden from area residents. Island Park Mayor Jim Ruzicka, who has for the most part been gung-ho about any LIPA repowering efforts of Barrett, said last week that he was extremely concerned about LIPA’s commitment to make the entire “pilot” payments, which are the taxes owed on the property.
“I want this in writing,” said Ruzicka. “Since they are a government agency, if they decide to save some money, they could knock down the pilots. But all indications are that they would not do that.
“I’m definitely in favor of repowering,” he said. “But I’m not so sure I’m in favor of LIPA purchasing the plant unless there are concrete guarantees that the pilots will be continued. If the pilots are lowered, it may hurt our school district.”
He said the payments have no impact on the village, but will help the unincorporated areas of Harbor Isle and Barnum Isle, which will see savings.
“While this matter has not been addressed yet, we look forward to working with the mayor on this issue,” said Law of Ruzicka’s concerns.
Nonetheless, Ruzicka said it was a good thing that LIPA’s decision has been postponed. “It gives us more time to do our research,” the mayor said.
Public meetings are expected to be held by LIPA in the fall to help determine whether to purchase Barrett and repower it, but a date and location have not yet been determined, officials said.
“It’s a good idea to have a meeting to keep residents informed,” said Ruzicka. “To repower the plant, environmentally it will be the best thing. A newer plant is more efficient and it’s always a plus from that end.”
The mayor added that Barrett has been “a good neighbor in the community,” and he would like to see it continue to operate there, especially with newer and technologically advanced equipment.
“If we lose the power plant, then we will lose a tremendous amount of money for the school district,” said Ruzicka.
As LIPA continues to weigh its options on purchasing and then repowering, local communities surrounding the Barrett plant have been called to action.
Jonathan Grindell, a community organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition, said members of his group have been going door-to-door in Island Park and surrounding communities such as Oceanside and Long Beach collecting petitions urging LIPA to repower the Barrett plant. The petition states that the plant is old and outdated, which can cause health problems, and also wastes “huge amounts of oil and gas.”
“Repowering significantly decreases pollution and global warming while increasing efficiency of the plant,” said Grindell, who added that well over 100 signatures have been collected on the petitions. “We do have a groundswell of support in the community.
“This opportunity will not be around forever,” Grindell added. “But this is an opportunity we must take advantage of.”
The Barrett plant consists of two units, the first built in 1956 and the other in 1963, which collectively generate 350 megawatts of power by feeding gas but mostly oil-generated power into an electrical grid. With one megawatt powering roughly 1,000 homes, Barrett produces a significant portion of the energy used in southwestern Nassau County.
In December 2005, when the proposed agreement was signed between LIPA and KeySpan, LIPA was given the option to purchase both the Island Park plant and another one in Far Rockaway for $75 million before the initial deadline in December 2006. The agreement also stipulated that KeySpan will pay LIPA $69 million to help regulate energy costs for two years.
As part of National Grid’s acquisition of KeySpan, which was finalized in August 2007, LIPA was given until May 2008 to decide whether to repower the Barrett plant. That deadline has now been extended to the end of this year. Officials said that LIPA could purchase both the Island Park and Far Rockaway plants, either one, or neither.
Construction for repowering Barrett would likely take between 18 and 24 months, and the permit approval process could take up to five years, officials said.
Joseph Kellard contributed to this article. Comments about it? Jlipton@liherald.com or (516) 569-4000 ext. 213.
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