LIPA gives National Grid lead role during storm

A "spike" in the cost of natural gas A "spike" in the cost of natural gas will trigger an average $13 increase in the average electric bill next month, LIPA said at a trustees meeting. (Nov. 12, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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The Long Island Power Authority is giving contractor National Grid control over managing its response to the coming winter storm, the utility said Thursday.

It's the first time since its 1998 creation that the embattled LIPA will cede control of operations and its public face during a potential emergency. National Grid and its predecessor, KeySpan, have always operated the electric grid for LIPA, with LIPA in control.

"As LIPA's service provider and to ensure consistency in messaging, National Grid is commanding this incident and is best suited to communicate storm preparation and storm response to the public," said LIPA spokesman Mark Gross.

As the storm nears, the Cuomo administration will deal directly with National Grid, as it did primarily during Sandy, to make sure appropriate responses are being carried out during and after the storm, including communicating with customers.

The decision is based on findings from the Moreland Commission, the group empaneled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to look into state utilities' response to superstorm Sandy that found LIPA's response was slow and poorly communicated.

"The governor's office has been communicating to National Grid that they need to be ready with advance preparations and response plans," a spokesman for Cuomo said.

In a statement, National Grid said the storm could cause more than 100,000 outages on Long Island, and said it was securing "hundreds" of extra workers to support the 500 linemen, 150 tree trimmers and others already on hand to respond to the storm.

It is also preparing restoration equipment and stocking materials such as transformers and wire around the Island.

It advised customers to take precautions in case of an outage, including having batteries for radios and flashlights, filling water containers and obtaining first-aid kits. The company said it expects that most outages will be restored within 24 hours, but "some could extend beyond that time."

Customers who experience an outage should call 800-490-0075 or 631-755-6900.

In its report last month, the Moreland Commission found that allowing LIPA to control the response and the public outreach "is simply unworkable in the context of a storm event."

For one, LIPA and National Grid "maintain separate emergency response plans," with LIPA's at 50 pages and National Grid's at hundreds of pages, according to the report.

"The existence of two interrelated but functionally distinct emergency plans creates confusion and inefficiencies that hamper expedient response during an actual emergency," the commission found. It "creates a lack of clarity about which entity is ultimately responsible for the effectiveness of the plans."

A source familiar with the situation said giving National Grid control of the operations requires a waiver of the current contract. A similar waiver was granted on a more limited basis -- for communications and government outreach -- during Sandy, the source said.

Now, Cuomo's administration is giving more complete authority to National Grid, in part because of concerns about storms.

According to the Moreland Commission report, there is a "need to ensure that preparations are in place for any future storm that could occur over the presumed transition period. Consideration should be given to enlisting the existing contractor, National Grid, in the effort to make sure that service quality is maintained, even in the event of another major storm."

Cuomo's office may continue to use other state agencies, including the New York Power Authority and the Public Service Commission, to assist in the oversight of LIPA as it considers a future structure for the embattled Long Island authority.

"The commission also recommends that the state's other energy-related agencies, including the [Department of Public Service] . . . and NYPA, oversee the transition, particularly from the standpoint of storm preparation and response planning," the Moreland Commission said.

One LIPA trustee, told of the front-and-center role for National Grid, was surprised.

"As a new board member, I've been less than impressed with National Grid to date," trustee Jeffrey Greenfield said. "I'm waiting to be impressed."

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