In the months since PSEG-Long Island began installing a new transmission line from East Hampton Village to Amagansett down a seven-mile stretch of back roads in quiet residential neighborhoods, the utility company has done little to quell the community’s concerns.
So it was little surprise on Tuesday night when few were impressed with the utility company’s new long-range plan, Utility 2.0, which was rolled out earlier this month to much criticism from East End officials on the lack of specificity about the utility company’s proposed projects.
Well over 200 people packed into the East Hampton Village Emergency Services Building to give testimony on the plan to the New York Public Service Commission and PSEG-LI. Many wore orange shirts emblazoned with the words “Bury the Lines” on the back to show their solidarity with the movement to bury the lines, which has become mired this summer in a debate over who should pay to remove the poles and lines that were installed and replace them with an underground cable.
PSEG has estimated the cost of burying the line at $20 million, on top of the $6.5 million they’ve already spent on the above-ground project and $2.1 million in modifications to the overhead project that would be needed if they decide to place the lines underground.
Homeowners along the route filed a class action lawsuit against PSEG Long Island and LIPA in May, and are seeking to have the utility companies pay damages and bury the line.
At Tuesday’s hearing, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele said PSEG-LI should develop a policy for placing new transmission lines underground as part of their long-range plan.
“There needs to be a fair and equitable way to bury lines,” he said.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the utility company should learn from the mistakes it made in East Hampton, and pointed out that, when the environmental study on the East Hampton transmission project was done last year, LIPA named itself the lead agent and didn’t include East hampton as an involved agency.
“We have no record the environmental assessment was ever filed with the Town of East Hampton,” said Mr. Cantwell, who took office in January.
Mr. Cantwell also said the Utility 2.0 plan doesn’t include any information on the details of PSEG’s planned grid expansion, except to say it will consist “primarily” of underground transmission lines and substation growth, which he interpreted to mean it could easily include some above-ground transmission lines.
“We don’t want to go through this again,” he said.
Mr. Cantwell added that PSEG-LI had recently decommissioned its two backup power generators at substations in Montauk, which could be cut off from the rest of Long Island in a serious storm.
“If Montauk is cut off by water, we will be airlifting emergency energy systems,” he said, adding that he would like to see the utility company meet its energy needs with renewable sources.
“It’s time to face reality,” he said of climate change and the potential for sea level to rise. “We have 100 miles of coastline. We need to meet our needs only with renewable energy.”
East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach said the Department of Public Service, which has regulatory authority elsewhere in the state, has only an advisory role to LIPA on Long Island. LIPA still owns the electric grid, which is being managed by PSEG-LI.
Mr. Richenbach said he was disappointed that no one from LIPA’s board of directors came to the hearing.
“The village supports energy efficiency, renewables and structural hardening,” he said, adding that East Hampton wants to be a partner in reviewing future plans.
Lynne Brown lives along the route of the new transmission line, in which 33,000-volt power lines are strung sometimes 20 to 25 feet from residents’ bedroom windows.
Ms. Brown said she’d already seen two lower voltage electric lines on fire on her front lawn, and that the fire department can’t put out electric line fires but has to wait for the utility company to turn off the power.
She said she’s not aware of anywhere else where transmission lines were run in a residential neighborhood.
Michael Brown, who lives along the route, urged the Public Service Commission to consider safety in the event of another storm similar to Superstorm Sandy. He added that the new transmission line runs right in front of the Emergency Services Building, and emergency workers often spend much of their time waiting for utility companies to turn off the power before they can respond to an emergency.
“If any of these lines go down, no one is going anywhere,” he said.
Former East Hampton Councilwoman Debra Foster said East Hampton is a “shelter-in-place” community in the event of a disaster.
“If we get a major storm, we’re surrounded [by water],” she said. “We can’t get out and people can’t get in. We don’t even have a hospital.”
“Take down these poles. Do this right,” she said.
Jack Forst said he doesn’t understand why the plan isn’t focused exclusively on renewable energy.
“I don’t know why the plan talks about using fossil fuel-based plants anywhere on Long Island,” he said. “This is not new technology. It’s old technology, and it’s all profit-based for PSEG.”
Concerned Citizens of Montauk Executive Director Jeremy Samuelson, who lives on Town Lane under the new transmission line, said the words he kept hearing from other attendees were transparency, community engagement, resiliency and renewables.
“Frankly, this meeting is happening a year too late,” he said. “We have a shell game, a game of hide the ball.”
He said he received a mailer about the transmission line project in late 2013, long after the statute of limitations was up for commenting on the under-publicized plan for the transmission line.
The mailer he received, he said, only said the poles would be replaced ‘in-kind.’ When he later heard PSEG-LI was installing larger poles, he said, he called a number on the mailer to get more information, but never received a response.
He said, because PSEG-LI had ignored community engagement and transparency, “this is what you get. You have to come back a year later and you have to be a partner in fixing this mess.”
“This thing is an atrocity,” he said. “The question is, is PSEG going to be our partner?”