More than two months after East Hampton Town issued a stop-work order that halted work on a PSEG Long Island substation in Amagansett, the utility company’s controversial project in the town and the village—deemed “necessary” to meet regional summer electric demands by the State Department of Public Service—remains incomplete.
Over the past six months, PSEG has attempted to install a high-voltage transmission line and 267 new utility poles. It says the project will ensure “reliability” and “redundancy” for ratepayers in East Hampton, and has also maintained that a summer 2014 deadline was crucial to the project.
Now, a week into the summer season, an end date for the endeavor is nowhere on the horizon.
Nick Lizanich, PSEG Long Island’s director of assets, who oversees the planners and engineers assigned to the project, said the idea of necessity comes from the peaked demand of electric from a booming summer population in the area. During the rest of the year, the Montauk area, which receives its electric from the Amagansett substation, uses about 15 megawatts of electricity. In July, that demand nearly doubles.
“You get the influx of more residents, homes that aren’t used for most of the year are now being used, restaurants are up and running, and you put the use of air conditioning on top of that,” said Mr. Lizanich.
But East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he doesn’t believe there is enough evidence to prove that this project is solely about meeting the needs of a booming summer population.
“This project is more about redundancy—and that’s a good thing,” he said. “There were no issues that I’m aware of in terms of widespread electricity loss last year. And, absent a big storm, or the system literally failing, I’m not convinced it’s a question of the current system not being able to provide for the demand of the summer.”
But the current system’s age and condition are the main reasons why the utility company maintains that the project is needed, said Mr. Lizanich. “We’re looking at structural integrity,” he said. “This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped maintaining everything because I’m banking on this new line. People say, ‘Oh, the line never fails,’ but it’s, like, yeah, thank God it never fails. We’re putting a lot of energy and money into maintaining it, but this new line would give us a lot more assurance.”
Last May, PSEG removed three diesel generators from Montauk because they no longer met environmental standards determined by the state. “They weren’t large,” said Mr. Lizanich. “It’s not like everything was going fine until we removed them. They were a very small impact to the area, and that wasn’t solving the area’s problems anyway. The environmental issues were serious.”
Previously, some East Hampton residents have said they would rather lose power, or be at a higher risk for losing power, than see the project come to fruition. But for some, the absence of power, even temporarily, is not an option, said Mr. Lizanich. “For everyone who says, ‘I can live without it,’ there’s somebody else who can’t,” he said. “We have a civil obligation to manage the grid.”
According to PSEG spokesperson Jeff Weir, from the East Hampton substation to Montauk, PSEG has 90 customers on life support. The utility company also has 684 “special needs” customers in the same area. Special needs customers, according to PSEG’s website, are customers over the age of 62 who have identified themselves to the company as needing medical assistance but are not necessarily on life support.
Mr. Cantwell said he is prepared to provide immediate support to any East Hampton resident dependent upon electricity for medical purposes. “East Hampton will respond to those situations on an emergency basis and take care of those people,” he said in a phone interview. “If there were ever a serious situation, we’d open an emergency shelter or get them the help that they need. We’re always prepared to do that.”
Additionally, Mr. Cantwell said if PSEG is so concerned about reliability for this summer, he does not understand why the utility company has not obtained site plan approval or a building permit for its Amagansett substation to continue the work. “If PSEG had simply filed an application to get a site plan approval, they would be well on their way to completing the project,” he said. “Instead, they chose to fight it in court.”
The town supervisor said, legally, site plan approval and a building permit could have been acquired while the stop-work order was issued, which would have allowed the utility company to finish the project. The project has “a few weeks worth of work” left, said Mr. Lizanich.
PSEG officials have maintained that the utility does not need site-plan approval or a building permit, because the property belongs to the former Long Island Power Authority, which is exempt from local regulation.
“LIPA is a state entity,” said Mr. Lizanich. “There’s no profit involved here. Our contract is not set up where we gain by building things. The contingencies have gotten worse, the number of customers who would be impacted by electricity loss would be worse. And as every year goes forward, we continue to get more customers that are impacted.”