LIPA weighs ‘retirement’ at ‘vintage’ Northport plant

Stacked: But the Northport Power Station doesn't hold the cards, according to LIPA, which wants to "retire" one of the plant's four steam-powered units.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Drawing direct parallels to several critical issues – including the COVID-19 pandemic – the Long Island Power Authority is pushing hard to push the Island’s steam-driven power plants into retirement.

Accompanying the Northport Power Station’s annual Property Tax Report, LIPA on Wednesday released a Repowering Feasibility Study that shows “accelerating the retirement” of the Northport station could contribute to hundreds of millions of saved consumer dollars, while bolstering Albany’s overall environmental mission.

Specifically, the study advocates lowering Island-wide fossil-fuel output by 400 to 600 megawatts by 2022, predicting a $300 million-plus savings for ratepayers. That plays nicely with the expected rise of offshore wind-generated juice for the regional electricity grid, while addressing state-mandated carbon reductions over the next two decades.

The cost-conscious can forget about replacing the Northport plant (part of National Grid USA since 2007), or some or even one of its four generator units, with higher-efficiency natural gas-fueled units: According to the LIPA study, replacing all of Long Island’s aging steam-powered plants with natural gas-fueled plants would increase consumer costs by up to $1.7 billion annually, and even upgrading just one of the Northport plant’s steam-powered units would cost customers an additional $700 million.

Mitch Pally: Savings are Job No. 1 for LIPA.

Instead, citing a “gradual decline” in annual energy production already underway at the circa-1967 Northport plant (down from 55.8 percent of plant capacity in 2005 to 15.2 percent in 2019), the report suggests “retiring” one of the Northport station’s units as part of the larger carbon-reduction plan.

Doing so would cut emissions, help save consumers those 300 large and do it all “without harming system reliability,” according to LIPA, which predicts that the Northport plant will be down to 2.9 percent of plant capacity by 2035 whether the 2022 retirement happens or not, and anticipates that “new offshore wind projects [will be] interconnected into the Long Island electric grid in 2024.”

The power authority said it was compiling a savings review incorporating retirements at the Northport station and at similar 1960s-era steam plants in Island Park and Port Jefferson, and expects to complete the review by the end of the year.

But several Long Island energy, economics and environmental experts – some praising the retirement strategy’s ecological benefits, others noting fiscal immediacy created by the coronavirus pandemic – are already playing past that.

“It is absolutely necessary that our electric utility do everything possible, both short- and long-term, to reduce the electric bills paid by our businesses as they attempt to recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Long Island Builders Institute Chief Executive Officer Mitch Pally said Wednesday.

Adrienne Esposito: Big environmental win.

“The release of these two reports lays out a specific series of actions which are absolutely necessary to reduce the costs of every ratepayer on Long Island,” added Pally, one of several regional rainmakers sounding the horn Wednesday in favor of the retirement plant.

Association for a Better Long Island Executive Director Kyle Strober said “the serious economic aftershocks from COVID-19” demand that LIPA “pursue as many avenues for saving as possible,” while Sammy Chu, chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Long Island Chapter, referenced “decreased energy demand on Long Island and increased deployment of renewable energy sources” in ultimately agreeing that “the economic costs of repowering the Northport Power Plant aren’t justified.”

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, framed it in purely environmental terms.

“Closing a portion of the Northport power plant is cause for celebration, as the long reign of fossil fuels is coming to an end,” Esposito said in a statement. “Long Island is engaged in a profound transition away from fossil fuels and replacing them with cleaner, safer renewable energy infrastructure.

“The well-reasoned decision of closing a unit at Northport … paves the path to achieving New York’s critical mandate to be carbon-free by 2040,” Esposito added. “The public can no longer bear the financial burden and the environmental impacts of these outdated, obsolete power plants.”