Town Board Supports State Bill Pushing For LIPA Oversight

The Southampton Town Board signed on in support of a measure designed to enhance oversight of LIPA and its providers such as PSEG.

LIPA ratepayers need to know that the Public Service Commission has the same regulatory authority over LIPA as it does over utilities elsewhere in the state, Southampton Town Councilman John Bouvier said last week. On Tuesday, October 13, the Town Board unanimously voted in support of a measure designed to bring enhanced oversight to fruition.

Introduced in the State Assembly last summer by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., with a companion bill sponsored in the Senate as well, the legislation calls for greater regulation of the Long Island Power Authority by the Public Service Commission.

All service providers who contract with LIPA are required by statute to undergo a comprehensive and regular management and operations audit at least every five years. The audit is contracted by, and issued to, the Public Service Commission.

However, in a release announcing the bill’s passage by both houses in July, Mr. Thiele noted the Public Service Commission does not have the authority to require that LIPA and the utility take steps to implement any of the recommendations contained in the audit.

Under Mr. Thiele’s legislation, he said, the PSC would have the authority to require LIPA and its service providers to implement recommendations made in any comprehensive and regular management and operations audit where fraud, abuse, or mismanagement is found.

“Millions of customers across Long Island depend on LIPA to meet their energy needs,” Mr. Thiele said in the release. “The passage of this essential legislation will bring LIPA in line with other utilities across the state and rightfully give the PSC the necessary authority to enforce audit recommendations and protect ratepayers from waste, fraud, and abuse.”

If the bill becomes law, the PSC will have the power to issue civil penalties against LIPA and its service providers if they fail to comply with audit recommendations.

As the Town Board considered signing on in support of the legislation, members of the public stepped up to the podium in Town Hall to endorse the move.

Dieter von Lehsten told the board that he’d been a victim of Tropical Storm Isaias, when a tree on his property crashed on the electrical connector line from the street to the house. A live wire sat across his property for a week before a repair crew arrived.

“This kind of slow service is unacceptable. We could have had serious injuries,” he said.

“If the governor signs this legislation, the Public Service Commission will have the ability to order LIPA to make the necessary changes to correct this mismanagement, and fine or revoke their license to operate if appropriate,” Mr. von Lehsten continued. “Neither the town’s elected officials nor its constituents like me should be forced into the position of negotiating with LIPA/PSEG for their cooperation. As I see it, the PSC has both the expertise and the resources to do that on our behalf.”

North Sea resident Lynn Arthur, chair of the Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee, also supported the town’s memorializing resolution.

“Over the last five years, we on the committee have discussed several examples of mismanagement and bad decision making resulting from the fact that LIPA is self-regulating,” she said.

Under current law, she continued, when mismanagement is detected, LIPA doesn’t have to follow recommendations or policies of local governments. Unique to Long Island, the town or advisory groups must negotiate directly with LIPA, while the PSC has the skills and resources to do this effectively. “They, however, lack the authority to force compliance,” Ms. Arthur noted.

The law is a good and important measure for Long Islanders, the committee chair asserted.

“To paraphrase Assemblyman Thiele: it shines a light on LIPA’s lack of accountability, lack of transparency, and lack of oversight,” Ms. Arthur said. “I will add that it also will bring LIPA in line with how the electric utilities across the rest of New York State operate.”

A letter from the Water Mill Citizens Advisory Committee was also offered into the board’s record. It reported “serious irregularities” a committee member found last year in relation to how LIPA calculated charges associated with burying transmission lines in the hamlet.

“The residents of our community should never need be responsible for uncovering the irregularities of LIPA. Time and again, LIPA has proven themselves to be a questionable partner with a disinclination towards transparency. Additional oversight is long overdue.”

Mr. Thiele said he expects the bill to go to the governor for his signature within the next few weeks. “The Public Service Commission must be given the authority to require remediation when fraud, waste or mismanagement is uncovered,” he said Monday. “This legislation authorizes the PSC to institute a compliance order, civil penalties, or revocation of the service provider’s authority. In the light of the total mismanagement of the response to Tropical Storm Isaias, the need for increased transparency and accountability is clear. This legislation is a first step in that direction.”