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Sunday, November 23, 2014

We need to change LIPA, but with care

The Long Island Power Authority is a nonprofit municipal electric utility that has operated in some capacity on Long Island for over 25 years. For as long as I can remember, LIPA has been about as popular as a root canal. Increasingly high electric rates and mismanagement have plagued the company for decades, and left its 1.1 million customers on Long Island dissatisfied.

That dissatisfaction grew exponentially after Hurricane Sandy. Approximately 90 percent of the utility’s Long Island customers lost power, and it took weeks for many of them to get it back. The tales of LIPA’s inaccurate service maps and poor customer service were unending.

National Grid (formerly KeySpan) has maintained LIPA’s power distribution and transmission, and for that reason it was the focus of just as much criticism for the post-storm response. As a result, LIPA and National Grid became the target of state leaders and citizens alike, who attacked the electric providers’ lack of preparation for and response to the storm.

Since 2010, Governor Cuomo has expressed disdain for the way state energy agencies operate. “I don’t believe you can fix it,” he has said. “I believe it has to be overhauled and you need a new system.” What happened after Sandy solidified the governor’s sentiments, and he created the Moreland Commission to investigate utility companies across the state.

Cuomo has proposed a bill that would replace LIPA and National Grid with Public Service Electric & Gas Co. of New Jersey, and would give PSE&G full control of daily operations. The proposal would also freeze Long Islanders’ electric rates for three years, beginning in 2015, and cut LIPA’s staff from 90 to about 20.

The Cuomo administration believes that this bill would save the state $50 million to $60 million annually beginning in 2016, and slash LIPA’s overwhelming debt.

Long Islanders deserve better customer service, comparable market rates and state-of-the-art emergency response — but we must ensure that these changes are for the better.

On June 6, the second of two scheduled public meetings attracted almost 300 concerned Long Islanders, who voiced their concerns about Cuomo’s proposal. Many made valid points.

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