Monday, June 10, 2013

Long Island's Energy Future

(My column In Long Island newspapers this week)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo seems intent on destroying the dream of public power for Long Island with Long Islanders democratically overseeing their utility and deciding the island’s energy future.

Instead, the governor would greatly expand having a private New Jersey company run the island’s utility operations—a company with a dubious energy history—and continue to keep energy management in the hands of political appointees.

“LIPA was never given a chance,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, a strong opponent of the governor’s plan, was saying last week. He was referring to the Long Island Power Authority which, when it was created in 1986, “was supposed to be a full-fledged public power company with a board elected by the people of Long Island. But that never happened.”

Rather, a series of private companies, most recently, London, England-based National Grid, has been running much of LIPA’s system. And under Cuomo’s new plan, Newark, New Jersey-based Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG) would fully operate it.

Moreover, his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, and his successor, George Pataki, killed having Long Islanders vote on a LIPA board. Arranged in its place was having the 15 board members picked by the governor, State Assembly speaker and Senate Majority leader. This would continue, but cut to five appointees in Cuomo’s plan. LIPA would be reduced to a shell.

“It’s a bad plan,” said Thiele last week. “And it is wrong for Governor Cuomo to try to ram this through in a month or so. This is going to affect Long Island for decades and should be subject to a widespread public review.”

The vision of public power for Long Island came as what had been the Long Island Lighting Company sought to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants here. The establishment of LIPA, with the power to eliminate LILCO if it persisted in its drive for the nearly-completed Shoreham nuclear plant and the other plants, was a key in ending this atomic program. But it involved more than that. The idea was to create a democratic entity to manage and plan for power on the island and champion safe, clean, renewable energy.

As Peter Maniscalco of Manorville, a leader in that effort, wrote in a recent letter in Newsday: “According to Albert Einstein, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s LIPA restructuring proposal is crazy. Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.” He charged that Cuomo would send energy policy on the island backwards. Also, “Why does the governor keep mentioning that LIPA was originally meant to be a holding company? This is false.”

As to PSEG, which under the Cuomo plan would be Long Island’s utility, it’s been known on Long Island for something rather crazy about which Cuomo might not be familiar.

PSEG a few decades back pushed to have nuclear plants in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, south of Long Island. Company literature proudly related how the notion of floating nuclear plants came to Richard Eckert, its vice president for engineering and construction, while he was taking a shower. He had a revelation of the ocean supplying the massive amounts of water nuclear plants need as coolant.

PSEG convinced Westinghouse to build such floating plants. In 1970, Westinghouse and Tenneco set up Offshore Power Systems to fabricate them at a facility it built off Jacksonville, Florida. The plants were to be towed into position with the first four moored 11 miles northeast of Atlantic City. Costs skyrocketed and in 1984 the scheme was scuttled and Offshore Power Systems was dissolved after many millions of dollars had been wasted.

I wrote about the station set up by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and run by Brookhaven National Laboratory along the ocean on Dune Road in Hampton Bays to determine the impact of an accident involving the PSEG floating nuclear plants. Clouds of smoke were set off and boats and aircraft used. It was found that Long Island would be the prime recipient of the radioactivity because of prevailing southwest winds.

It’s not too late for Long Island to return to the vision of energy democracy—having Long Islanders, not English or New Jersey companies, operate our energy system, served by what LIPA should have been all along, a full-fledged public power company, with elected board members providing oversight and shaping Long Island’s energy future.

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