Assemblyman Fred Thiele argues that the future of LIPA should be decided in an open and transparent process and the interests of the Long Island consumer must be paramount.
Over 25 years ago, the New York State Legislature created the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) with two primary purposes: (1) to insure that the Shoreham Nuclear Power Station never opened, and (2) to replace Long Island’s irresponsible investor owned utility, the Long Island Lighting company (LILCO), with a public utility accountable to the people of Long Island.
The first goal was accomplished. The second was never given a chance. LIPA was supposed to be governed by an elected Board of Trustees. It never happened. Instead, its leadership has always been appointed by Albany political leaders with its first allegiance to Albany, not Long Islanders.
The result has been a disaster. LIPA’s management has been political, not professional. It has been anything but transparent and accountable. With a management structure that would make Rube Goldberg blush, it is hard for anyone to know who is in charge. Is it the Governor, or LIPA, or National Grid? When Superstorm Sandy hit, we all got the answer…nobody. The status quo is clearly unacceptable. The Governor convened the Moreland Commission. After a couple of public hearings, a recommendation dropped out of the sky to privatize LIPA…go back to the LILCO model.
Long Islanders are seldom unanimous about any political issue. However, one thing everyone agreed upon was that privatization was worse than the status quo (not LILCO again!).
The Governor has now put forward a real proposal that can be the basis for discussions about Long Island’s energy future. His proposal: (1) keep LIPA , (2) give clear authority and accountability to PSE&G to operate the system, (3) give increased authority to the State Public Service Commission (PSC) to oversee LIPA and PSE&G.
It’s a start, but we need to know more. (1) The future of LIPA cannot be determined behind closed doors in Albany. The decision-making process needs to be open and transparent and Long Islanders need to be part of it. (2) There needs to be a guarantee that rates will be frozen at least for the next several years. (3) There needs to be a public advocate component to insure the interests of Long Island consumers are being served.
LIPA should continue and its Trustees should be elected. Given history, no one can be comfortable with leaving Long Island’s interest to the PSC or a private utility. That is how Shoreham happened. LIPA must be accountable to Long Islanders. It must retain real authority to protect the public interest. Further, LIPA’s efforts to promote alternative energy through programs such as solar feed-in tariffs must continue and be under local control. LIPA should sell its stake in the upstate Nine Mile Point Nuclear Plant and use the proceeds to reduce its debt.
Too many times, decisions have been made about LIPA that benefited Albany rather than Long Island. That can not happen again. Long Islanders deserve a reliable, cost effective electric company. That will only happen if Long Islanders are part of the process and have a real say in their future.
Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) is a New York State assemblyman representing the First Assembly District.
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