Goodbye National Grid. Hello PSEG Long Island. Beginning January 1,the Public Service Enterprise Group [PSEG] Long Island will manage the operation of the Long Island Power Authority’s [LIPA] electric transmission and distribution system.
“National Grid is out,” said Nassau County Legislator David Denenberg at a community meeting held recently at Seaford High School. “PSEG saw the same storm, but 96% of its customers who lost power were back in six days,” he said referring to New Jersey’s experience with superstorm Sandy. “Here more than 50% of Long Island residents still had no electric power for 14 days.”
But now there’s a new kid in town, one who promises to bring to LIPA’s 1.1 million customers on Long Island and the Rockaways “the reliable service and customer satisfaction we are known for in New Jersey,” said Daniel Eichhorn, vice president of customer services for PSEG Long Island. “We were named America’s Most Reliable Electric Utility five times in the last eight years and also won the ReliabilityOne Award. We believe that within five years we will be ranked in the top quarter for customer satisfaction here on Long Island. Our model has been successful in New Jersey and it will be successful here on Long Island. We have a plan,” he said.
In December of 2011 PSEG Long Island LLC was selected by LIPA to manage LIPA’s electric transmission and distribution system, which has been handled by National Grid. There is a 12 year contract between PSEG LI and LIPA beginning January 1, 2014.
The Public Service Enterprise Group is a publicly traded diversified energy company with annual revenues of more than $10 billion and three principal subsidiaries PSEG Power, Pubic Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) and PSEG Energy Holdings.
PSEG Long Island LLC is a subsidiary of PSEG Energy Holdings.
Under the agreement PSEG Long Island will manage electric transmission and distribution operations, customer services as well as LIPA’s 18 percent ownership of Nine Mile Point 2 Nuclear Station in upstate New York. Additionally, PSEG Long Island will develop and implement operational improvements to provide safe and reliable service along with a plan to improve storm response, increase customer satisfaction and manage the operational and maintenance costs of the utility.
How to keep the lights on
“The first year we will begin implementing operational improvements including upgrading technology,” said John O’Connell, vice president of transmission and distribution for PSEG Long Island. “Technology is a big piece of what we do.”
Mr. O’Connell said they will do “an investment evaluation,” as well as provide “reliability that is centered on maintenance of the system. We will focus on tree trimming, as well as pole inspections. We will also include an new outage management system to help us with response to outages and to assist our customers,” he said.
Mr. Eichhorn said 2014 will focus on customer satisfaction by improving communication with a new automated phone system that will cut wait times including a call back feature. Customers may leave their name and a time for a customer representative to call them back.
Additionally, a new storm response program will be put into place to stream line response time that includes working more closely with government officials.
“By the end of 2014 the 1400 National Grid employees will be PSEG employees. We will have a foundation in place to assist the communities and I believe our customers will see a noticeable improvement by this time next year,” said Mr. Eichhorn.
Ralph Spagnolo complained about the lack of response to cutting branches that will keep wires from coming down during a storm. “There is a big old tree right over one pole in my neighborhood. I have asked them to take branches down but they never came. It will come down in the next storm.”
Mr. Eichhorn asked for the address and said “we will be doing extra maintenance of trees at first. We find that some times these trees turn out to be dead and we have to take them down,” he said.
Tom Gallagher inquired about customer satisfaction. ‘Where can we go, if we are not satisfied. I hope you hire local people to do the work. Don’t bring people from New Jersey.”
“We are planning for the worse case scenario for another storm and how we will respond,” replied Mr. Eichhorn. “We have issued an RFP for local companies to provide us with support.”
Steven Rhoads, a Wantagh firefighter, added, “you’re inheriting a system that needs a lot of work.What’s the plan for capital improvement without incurring additional costs to ratepayers?”
“Ninety percent of the work [when these storms hit] is done by mutual aid crews. These external crews are a savior. But we’ll assess the system ourselves based on new standards for infrastructure. We’ll invest wisely every year,” said Mr.O’Connell.
“What about replacing overhead wires with underground wires?” asked Claudia Borecky.
“We’ll look at it but it’s more expensive to install and repair, although not as easily damaged,” said Mr. O’Connell.
“We can’t replace all over head wires and each situation is unique,” added Mr. Eichhorn. “No utility is thinking wide scale replacement. The trick is to use the money we have wisely, to get the biggest bang for the buck.”