Feds increase funding to upgrade electric grid

Power lines seen at sunrise in Melville on Power lines seen at sunrise in Melville on Jan. 11, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

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The federal government has increased funding for major upgrades of the Long Island electric grid, adding $730 million for new system improvements to roughly $700 million in reimbursements for Sandy-related repairs, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office said.

The money would allow the Long Island Power Authority to elevate damaged substations, bury power lines and build a new system to automatically "sectionalize" electrical switches to limit outages, among other improvements, Cuomo's office said Thursday.

In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to give New York State unprecedented flexibility in determining which upgrade projects to focus on to protect the system's 1,025 miles of cables and circuits.

Cuomo said the funding would provide for upgrades without a rate increase. His LIPA reform act, passed by the State Legislature last year, promised a three-year freeze of the delivery-charge portion of bills.

Power supply charges hit a record high this month, mostly because of soaring natural gas prices.

"This funding will allow the state to dramatically improve the power grid, including elevating lines and repairing substations without raising rates for Long Island's residents and businesses," Cuomo said in a statement. "We need to re-imagine New York for the new reality of extreme weather . . . "

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A Cuomo administration official said $705 million would cover the entire cost of repairs from Sandy, money which LIPA has already applied for and begun receiving. Of that amount, 90 percent would be paid by FEMA reimbursements, while the remaining 10 percent would be covered by a Community Block Development Grant, the official said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, who also has been advocating for the federal funding, hailed the grants. "We're not just building back the same, we're building back stronger, so that the next time a superstorm hits, the lights don't go off across Long Island," he said in a statement.

A FEMA spokesman was unable to comment immediately about the increase.

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The money, which he said was tied to the federal superstorm Sandy relief bill, "will make sure that Long Islanders, who saw such miserable service during the storm, will not be on the hook for the repairs and improvements to the system."

The FEMA funds come atop $72 million in block grants Cuomo's office previously announced to fortify substations that were not damaged by Sandy but which are vulnerable.

The new funding also comes in addition to $51 million in grants Cuomo's office announced securing last year to pay for upgrading an outdated computer system used during major storm outages.

PSEG Long Island, which manages the electric grid, is still using a decades-old outage management system that had been used by former contractor National Grid, including during Sandy, when criticism of LIPA peaked. The company plans to install a new system by July.

Cuomo's office also is reviewing the prospect that some of the funding could be used to address a controversial PSEG project in East Hampton, where residents and the town supervisor have requested that new transmission wires on taller poles instead be buried underground.

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CORRECTION: Because of incorrect information provided to Sen. Schumer's staff, an earlier version of this story said the FEMA funding amount was up to $1.5 billion.

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