When the going got tough, PSEG got going -- back to New Jersey.
As superstorm Sandy bore down on the tri-state region last month, top officials of PSEG, the Newark, N.J.-based company that is taking over management of the Long Island electric grid in 2014, left the Island to return to their home base, LIPA and PSEG officials said.
Dave Daly is the top PSEG official leading the transition from National Grid to PSEG, and is likely to become the leading executive of PSEG Long Island. He was among those who returned to New Jersey, where power was knocked out to a record 1.7 million customers of PSE&G, the New Jersey utility subsidiary of parent PSEG. PSE&G had restored power to "virtually all" those customers by Nov. 12, though on that day a switching station failed and 45,000 more customers lost power.
Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer of PSE&G, said it was his decision to pull back Daly and other top officials, because, he said, he didn't want them "in the way" of LIPA and National Grid's restoration efforts.
"Too many cooks in the kitchen" would have complicated matters, he said. "It was my decision that Dave [Daly]'s presence there would have created more of a distraction. We were really trying to help by being absent than being there and asking questions."
Outgoing LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey said LIPA had no problem with Daly and other PSEG officials leaving, and said some PSEG staffers remained. Neither he nor LaRossa could provide precise figures for how many stayed on Long Island.
The decision raised eyebrows, not just because PSEG Long Island officials could have helped or watched the problematic system in action and devised fixes. LIPA already is paying PSEG $15.4 million for "transition" services through 2014, when a separate $3.87 billion, 10-year contract takes effect, according to the New York State comptroller's website.
Bill Faulk, chief of staff for outgoing Suffolk County Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and a possible candidate for the seat, said, "You'd think they'd want to be here so that they could learn how LIPA and National Grid handle these types of situations and they're prepared when they take over."
Local customers had reason to believe PSEG officials might work on Long Island during the storm. After attending a drill with LIPA, PSEG this summer released a statement on its new webpage (ourlipafuture.info) under the headline, "The next big storm."
Daly is quoted as saying, "Storm restoration is one of the major areas we are planning for as part of the transition to PSEG in 2014. We have a dedicated team that is working with LIPA and reviewing both PSEG and LIPA/National Grid plans, including how to incorporate the lessons we each learned from [Tropical Storm] Irene."
Daly did not return calls for comment for this story.
Hervey said those PSEG staffers who remained on Long Island did help. "We did use some of the transition team here that did a lot of work for us," he said.
Hervey said he understood that top PSEG officials who left Long Island were needed for work in New Jersey after the storm.
"Dave had work over in New Jersey," Hervey said. "PSEG has a job of transition right now. They do not have a job of operating the system right now. It's appropriate" that top officials departed. "With my agreement, those that that had operating responsibilities back in New Jersey went and did those operating responsibilities," Hervey said.
LaRossa said PSEG expects to learn just as much about the much-criticized LIPA-National Grid response to the storm through investigations and reviews that are underway by the state and LIPA as if top PSEG officials had been on the ground here during the storm.
Nor does he expect anticipated reforms at LIPA to impact the manner in which PSEG will operate the grid once it takes over in 2014. The contract with LIPA is very specific, and PSEG will perform work to the contract and its plan.
As for the next storm, LaRossa said he didn't believe the proximity of LIPA to PSEG's New Jersey base will create a situation in which the two utility operating arms, PSEG LongIsland and PSE&G, will be competing for crews to restore power. That's because the two utilities are in different operating areas, and apply for outside crews from different pools.
"There will not be a food fight between PSEG and the LIPA service provider," he vowed.
Neither Hervey nor LaRossa could say with certainty whether PSE&G in the end sent any repair crews to Long Island, as more than 100 utilities from around the nation did to build an unprecedented repair force of more than 14,000 for LIPA.