Originally published in Newsday, October 2, 2012 1:52 PM
By MARK HARRINGTON mark.harrington@newsday.com

More than a dozen LIPA ratepayers debated the wisdom of renewing a contract to use Long Island’s legacy power plants at a sometimes-spirited trustees meeting Tuesday that saw a protester’s sit-in and, in the end, approval of the 15-year pact.

All but one trustee approved the contract, which gives The Long Island Power Authority new options to overhaul many of the 1950s-era generators. The vote was 8-1, with trustee Neal Lewis voting against.

The contract would provide LIPA with continued access to 50 different National Grid generating units at 12 different locations, including big steam plants at Northport, Port Jefferson and Island Park.

LIPA and its supporters said the authority had little choice but to approve the $240 million annual contract with National Grid if it wanted to keep the lights on and meet regulatory capacity requirements. They said locking in the 3,700 megawatts of capacity would help further projects such as overhauling plants to cleaner-burning power and backup for more renewable sources.

“We need all these resources to complete the transition to a more diverse energy portfolio on Long Island,” said LIPA vice president Paul DeCotis.

“When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, you need baseload,” or power-plant power, said Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant, who had been critical of LIPA’s and National Grid’s pact until it made provisions to overhaul a 1950s-era plant in the village.

Energy expert Matthew Cordaro, who first proposed repowering the plants in 2002, noted the electric delivery system “wouldn’t function without these plants,” but added he hoped LIPA didn’t just study the overhauling plants.

But environmentalists and other detractors said that locking in fossil-fuel plants would limit LIPA’s ability to transition to cleaner energy. They urged LIPA to pursue a large wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

Lisa Dix, the senior New York representative for the Sierra Club, said, “This agreement is a good deal for National Grid. But it’s a bad deal for LIPA bill payers,” who she said could face higher costs if fuel bills rise.

Environmental activist Peter Maniscalco, who in the 1970s and 1980s led opposition to the Shoreham nuclear power plant, read a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in which he called the agreement “arrogant, irresponsible, unethical and possibly illegal.” When he finished, he stood before board members holding a sign asking for clean energy, then sat on the carpet before them when a security guard asked him return to his seat.

LIPA chairman Howard Steinberg stressed that the contract “does not in any way represent a retreat from renewables, and nobody should be taking it as a retreat from our commitments.”

Steinberg also indicated the appointment of a new chief executive for LIPA was imminent. “It’s my understanding there is a short list of candidates, and that Jon Kaiman is among them,” added Steinberg, emphasizing that his information was “unofficial.”

State sources told Newsday last month that Kaiman, the North Hempstead supervisor, topped the list of candidates to take the chief executive’s slot, which has been vacant for more than two years. Kaiman and Cuomo’s office declined to comment.

The National Grid contract still must be approved by the state attorney general and comptroller, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.