As a village board meeting wound down earlier this month, Trustee Michael Sepe addressed what he described as Rockville Centre’s next challenge: the need to upgrade its electric system with improvements that could cost up to $20 million.
With one of three municipally owned electric utilities on Long Island, Rockville Centre produces power for roughly 11,000 homes and businesses. The village’s power is primarily provided by three transmission lines (owned by the Long Island Power Authority and operated by PSEG Long Island). But the village Electric Department owns and operates a small power plant — which burns on No. 2 fuel oil and natural gas — that is used during peak-use periods, such as summer months, generating between 10 and 25 percent of the village’s power at those times.
According to a Notice of Violation issued against the village in 2012 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Rockville Centre’s power plant infringed on the federal Clean Air Act by exceeding nitrous oxide emission limits.
An agreement from 2014, which facilitated settlement negotiations between the village and the EPA for the violation, was renewed in July to extend through February, as talks between the parties continue.
Sepe said he shared his thoughts at the board meeting after hearing the EPA’s then-latest list of requirements, which called on the village to temporarily fix problems — by adding monitoring devices on generators, for example — a costlier option than modernizing the plant by including renewable energy sources, such as solar.
A more recent meeting, he added, was “very, very positive,” and “moved away from several million dollars of prior demands.”
“Conceptually, the EPA and Department of Justice at a macro level kind of agreed with our approach, which is, ‘Don’t force us, federal government, to invest lots of money in maintaining old technology,’” Sepe said. “Let us just get to the bottom line of reducing emissions by getting ahead of the technology curve and investing in the whole microgrid concept.”
Microgrids are local energy networks that can operate separately from a larger electrical grid during extreme weather events or emergencies, providing power to individual customers and crucial public services such as first responders, hospitals and water-treatment facilities.
In March, the village was awarded $1 million as part of the second stage of the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority’s NY Prize Community Microgrid competition. The funding is for developing specifications, obtaining bids, preparing business plans for a microgrid, which would allow the village to modernize its power system and make it more resilient during emergencies, while also moving toward renewable energy sources.
The proposed microgrid would include up to one or two megawatts of solar power and six to 12 megawatts of dual-fuel or gas-fired power, and would serve about 2,900 residents as well as 34 critical facilities, including South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, police and fire services, Village Hall, assisted living centers and local businesses.
Phil Andreas, superintendent of the village Electric Department, said that though the EPA’s 2012 Notice of Violation against the village partly prompted Rockville Centre to modernize its power plant, changes in technology and state and federal policies also contributed to the microgrid vision.
“I do feel strongly that this hybrid approach and balance … between traditional generation, renewables and the efficiency makes sense,” he said. “I think over time we’re going to continue to propagate that as the cost of some of this technology comes down, it becomes more popular and as residents embrace it.”
During the first stage of the state Energy Research & Development Authority’s microgrid competition, the village received $100,000 to conduct a feasibility study, and found that the project could cost up to $20 million, Andreas said. He added, however, that he expects it to cost less, and that the project could be done over six to eight years.
Currently, Rockville Centre homeowners pay about 12 cents per kilowatt of electricity on average, Andreas said —about half of what PSEG Long Island customers pay. To keep rates stable and to be as cost-efficient as possible while modernizing the plant, the village is looking into grants, and seeking a third award from NYSERDA in Stage Three of its competition next year, which could grant more than the $1 million offered to the village earlier this year.
But it starts with finalizing a settlement with the EPA. “We’re driving the negotiations in a manner that meets the requirements of the EPA, minimizes the cost to the village and ensures that we do the right thing going forward,” Andreas told the Herald.
Right now, he added, the village is working on specifications and drawings for the bid package, and expects to begin the bidding process in the coming months to price out different parts of the microgrid and lay the groundwork for its construction.
“While we don’t know what the final cost will be,” Sepe said, “I can pretty much guarantee it will be less than ... originally requested. I can moreover guarantee that the public will be informed every step of the way.”