Editorial: LIPA’s change of plans is cause for concern in town

Supervisor Sean Walter and councilman George Gabrielsen at a recent town board work session. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Supervisor Sean Walter and councilman George Gabrielsen at a recent town board work session. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

News that LIPA is likely to delay plans to build more peaker plants on Long Island, but won’t be stalling on its renewable energy efforts, comes with mixed reactions. 

On the one hand, it was a relief to learn this week that LIPA’s request for renewable energy project proposals — including up to five bids from Riverhead Town involving its landfill and Enterprise Park at Calverton properties — is still active and moving forward as scheduled.

On the other hand, all of this is a foreboding reminder that the town’s proposed 2015 budget is fragile and relies heavily on speculative income — in this case, $700,000 from the lease or sale of land for power generation at EPCAL. This money may never materialize. PSEG’s decision to delay construction of new peaker plants is an example of at least one option that’s already off the table — and the town budget hasn’t even been adopted yet.

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Understandably, the needs in any market, with any commodity like electricity, change and evolve. So PSEG’s decision to further evaluate Long Island’s power needs, instead of signing contracts for several new power plants, doesn’t come as a shock. LIPA will do what is best for LIPA, not for the Town of Riverhead.

What remains somewhat shocking is the idea in Town Hall that things at EPCAL will somehow, one way or another, just work themselves out next year.

Don’t get us wrong: We are rooting for EPCAL. We want it to succeed.

But the reality is that we don’t know what’s going to happen and there are no guarantees that the former Grumman site will generate revenue anytime soon, despite the town’s reliance on it in next year’s budget. With options already starting to fall by the wayside, the town could end up in a precarious position when negotiating with potential investors in the future.

Supervisor Sean Walter remains steadfast in his faith that the town will recover enough funds from EPCAL to use that money to balance next year’s budget . Perhaps it will. But the lack of signed contracts in hand before Town Board members approve next year’s budget — which they appear set to do on Tuesday — is troubling.

Continuing to believe that LIPA will pull Riverhead’s name out of a hat next month for an energy contract or two might be even more troubling.

Perhaps most troubling of all is that no community members said a single word about the budget — for or against — at a public hearing last week.