Equinor still eyeing Island Park plant for future wind-power cable

Mark Harrington for Newsday

July 24, 2019

Originally published in Newsday on July 24, 2019.

The prospect of converting the E.F. Barrett power station in Island Park into a major cable-receiving station for a large offshore wind cable remains on the drawing board for a latter phase of a project called Empire Wind, an official said, but a local lawmaker wants it back on the front burner.

When Norway-based Equinor's Empire Wind project was selected by the state last week to bring 816-megawatts of offshore wind to the New York grid, its connection point was listed as a Con Edison substation in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn.

Equinor had been eyeing several potential connecting points, said its director of external affairs, Julia Bovey, but in the final submission it selected the Brooklyn site because that connecting point had existing availability for the big infusion of new power. 

“We have to advance our plan to interconnect on the grid at a place that needs power" and has system availability "or else we’ll fall behind schedule,” Bovey said. “At the same time we can continue our conversations and do what we must to be ready, so that if there’s a way we can make Barrett work, we’ll be ready even if it’s the next phase” of development for a future state contract.

Equinor has an 80,000-acre federal lease area and the first phase involves 60 to 80 wind turbines more than 600 feet tall in waters starting 15 miles from Long Beach to 35 miles from Patchogue, to power as many as 500,000 homes. It plans to bid future projects for the maximum 9,000 megawatts Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans for the state grid by 2040. 

“We are enthusiastic about Barrett if not for phase one then for phase two,” Bovey said.

Equinor has released to stakeholders a map of possible cable routes, which includes possible interconnections at New York Harbor, New Jersey, and two on Long Island — one at Long Beach near the Barrett plant and another at Jones Beach that would require 15 miles of land cable to a LIPA substation in Melville. The Barrett plant is owned by National Grid and its power output takes all the availability of the grid connection there. 

The decision to connect the cable in Brooklyn was a setback for State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a backer of Cuomo’s wind-farm vision. On Monday, Kaminsky sent a letter to Christer af Geijerstam the president of Equinor, asking the company to “reconsider” the cable route to land it at the Barrett plant. The letter was also sent to John Bruckner, president of National Grid New York, which would need to partner with Equinor or even sell the plant. 

“As you embark on this partnership with our state, we urge you to consider the Barrett Generation Station as an integral component of the project,” Kaminsky wrote, noting that Barrett would “strategically place your interconnection point midway between Long Island and New York City, thereby [generating] the potential to provide both regions with clean energy and green jobs.”

Kaminsky, in his letter, noted the 127-acre facility has been “underutilized for too long,” and is a “perfect candidate for transition …” It’s also the subject of a tax challenge by LIPA, which seeks to ramp down the property taxes it pays for the plant by 50 percent over nine years. LIPA and Nassau have been negotiating a settlement of the utility’s tax dispute. Kaminsky wrote that the plant is "incredibly important to the local community and school district, and its residents would welcome the notion of the plant having a bright, clean and green future." 

Bovey said Equinor "wants to have that conversation, we’d love to work something out, but at the end of the day that power plant is not ours to use." Asked if Equinor would consider buying the plant, Bovey would only say, “We are considering all options.”

A National Grid spokesman wouldn't say whether the plant is for sale, or whether it's negotiating a sale, but said: "We’re committed to helping the state achieve its renewable energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals." 

The spokesman noted all National Grid's Long Island plants operate under long-term contract with LIPA, and, "We’re committed to fulfilling the terms of that contract."

National Grid and NextEra had been working on a plan to overhaul the Barrett plant with efficient new generation equipment, but LIPA cited declining use and lower overall electric demand in deciding to forestall the plan.