Cuomo: Give state more power to clamp down on utilities in wake of Sandy
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Monday for strengthening the way the state regulates its power companies, a move he said is needed to prevent the sort of failures highlighted by superstorm Sandy.
Cuomo said the state Public Service Commission, which has the power to fine utilities, needs to be given greater leverage to force the power companies to live up to their mandates.
"The PSC is fundamentally flawed," Cuomo said at a news conference Monday announcing the findings of a panel he created to evaluate the utilities' performance during the Oct. 29 storm. "I don't believe the PSC is really a regulator, and I don't believe these utility companies are regulated entities."
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The governor said legislation might be necessary to give hamstrung regulators the power to enforce needed changes in how utilities do their business.
"I can't tell you how many people I've put into [regulatory] positions and they call me up and they say, 'This just doesn't work,' " Cuomo said. "I don't have the regulatory authority to do the job that you would think I was appointed to do."
And, Cuomo added, regulation won't work without giving the state the power to threaten the utilities' livelihood.
"We want to have a situation where we try to regulate them, and to truly regulate them you have to be able to terminate the relationship," Cuomo said. "Otherwise, you have no ultimate sanction."
The Moreland Commission, the panel Cuomo put together, recommended increasing to as much as $2 million per day the size of the fine the state can impose when a utility violates one of its orders. The maximum daily penalty is $100,000.
The 10-member panel also recommended that the Public Service Commission regularly review and approve a utility company's storm plans and penalize those who fail to comply.
Much of the commission's findings centered on the need to privatize the Long Island Power Authority, which would create an investor-owned company with a rate structure that would be regulated by the Public Service Commission.
Commission chairman Robert Abrams, a former state attorney general, cited the utility's failure to heed state recommendations made after previous storms to trim or cut down trees to prevent wires from falling on power lines.
But, Cuomo said, it might take further study to determine who's truly at fault because other power companies faced similar delays in getting power up and running after the storm.
He noted that Orange & Rockland Utilities, which serves Orange, Rockland and Sullivan counties, was also slow in getting power up and running, largely because of the number of trees that knocked out power lines.
"We may have to say if something like this happens again, prepare for a two-week outage," Cuomo said. "I think it's too easy to say the delay on Long Island was because of LIPA, especially if the delay in other parts of the state was just as bad."
Officials with both O&R and Con Edison, which serves customers in Westchester County, said they looked forward to working with the state to improve their operations.
The Moreland Commission findings are considered preliminary and come two days before Cuomo is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the State Address.
The commission will continue its public hearings into the performance of the state's utilities before and after Sandy touched down. A final report is expected to be issued sometime in the next few months.