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Jan 7, 2019 1:08 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

New Law Requires LIPA, PSEG To Notify Communities When New Projects Planned

Crews working on lines in Shinnecock Hills.  DANA SHAW
Jan 8, 2019 3:11 PM

Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a mandate directing the Long Island Power Authority and PSEG Long Island to better notify communities before installing above-ground transmission lines and poles.

The legislation—sponsored by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle—was sparked by the installation of tall utility poles in East Hampton in 2014 and the surprise erection of 90-foot-tall steel poles in Eastport four years later. The state lawmakers say public officials and affected residents were inadequately informed about the electrical transmission projects before they took place.

Following more than a year of public protests and a lawsuit filed by community groups, as well as the towns of Southampton and Brookhaven, PSEG announced on Friday that it will remove 24 of the roughly 200 steel poles along Eastport Manor Road and bury the lines instead.

In July, an independent audit signaled by the state also found that the utilities lacked transparency when it came to plans affecting communities.

“LIPA came in with these big transmission line projects that have a significant impact on communities—particularly rural, historic communities like East Hampton and Eastport,” Mr. Thiele said. “They did so without proper notice to the community, and without proper notice to the local government or the elected officials. Because of their failure to do proper outreach, both projects ended up in litigation and controversy, and a lot of anger.

“Once is a mistake,” he continued. “When it happened a second time, it became clear that we couldn’t trust LIPA and PSEG Long Island to do the right thing by involving the community in these decisions.”

Now, before LIPA and PSEG can construct a transmission project, the utilities are required to notify the county, town or village where the project is planned, as well as any alternative locations.

Every utility customer within 500 feet of the proposal—as well as local state lawmakers—also must be informed of the location and project description, as well as relevant studies and analysis, including environmental and traffic impact, if already conducted.

Mr. Thiele said the law will benefit community discussions, including during various talks for new substations in Montauk and East Hampton. However, the law does not apply to underground transmission projects, or in-kind above-ground replacements.

“Time and again, I see projects end up in needless litigation and community upheaval,” Mr. LaValle said in a statement. “I believe that this legislation will ensure enhanced transparency through adequate community notification of impending projects and promote greater cooperation between the utility and impacted residents.”

“Being open and transparent with our customers is a key part of PSEG Long Island’s mission,” a spokesperson for PSEG Long Island said in a statement on Friday. “We are always looking to enhance our communications with our customers and have already adopted many of the items laid out in this recently passed legislation.”

LIPA representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

In August, LIPA Chief Executive Officer Thomas Falcone said the demand for electricity on the South Fork was increasing at an “incredibly fast” rate, at least 2 percent each year. By 2030, he said, the need for power will be 15 times what it is today, and the existing transmission infrastructure was insufficient and outdated two years ago.

“There is plenty of power on the island, but the pipe on the South Fork isn’t big enough,” Mr. Falcone said.

To compensate, LIPA has sought to defer transmission investment by bringing in clean energy through wind power—including the bid by Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind, formerly Deepwater Wind, to construct 15 wind-generated power turbines in the ocean off Block Island—coupled with battery storage facilities.

There are at least 10 transmission projects planned that would affect South Fork customers—none of which would trigger a formal notification by the new mandate.

In Southampton, Bridgehampton, Riverhead and Wainscott, new power lines and circuits are planned to be buried underground between this year and 2026. Upgrades are also planned inside existing substations at Buell Lane, Hither Hills, Culloden Point and Amagansett in East Hampton Town.

While the law does not cover buried lines, it is a LIPA policy “to outreach to affected public officials and communities during early stages of the construction process,” officials said.

“Whether it’s for new transmission lines or a facility, we have to go to the community for their input,” Mr. Falcone said. “In the way we make decisions, everyone needs to understand it. It’s got to be fair, and it has got to be responsible.”

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