LIPA slips near bottom in JD Power ranking

A LIPA meter in Greenport. A report by

A LIPA meter in Greenport. A report by the LIPA Oversight Committee has said the utility needs structural changes to address lingering problems. (July 13, 2011) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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The Long Island Power Authority dropped to second-to-last place in JD Power and Associates' annual business customer satisfaction ranking among large Eastern electric utilities.

After achieving a ranking of seventh last year, LIPA dropped to 11th place among 12 large Eastern utilities this time. Nationally, LIPA ranked 90th of 95 utilities that were graded.

LIPA scored 606 of a potential 1,000 points, down from the 622 it scored for the previous year. The 2012 study was conducted through much of the second half of 2011.

Bruce Germano, vice president of customer services for LIPA, said while LIPA "didn't like where we ended up," the utility has already put in place fixes for some of the factors that contributed to the lower score. Most of the lower score, he said, was the result of communications and other problems during last year's Tropical Storm Irene, when around half of LIPA's customers lost power.

To fix it, LIPA has already upgraded and automated its damage assessment system, implemented text-message alerts and reporting for outages, begun new coordination efforts with local municipalities, and hired four district managers to improve outreach and communication.

"We feel we can now provide a tremendous amount more information to our customers than in the past," Germano said.

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But some businesses may not be quick to raise LIPA's grade.

Dean McCormick, an owner of School of Fish swim and scuba shop in Rocky Point, noted the store was "basically out of business" for a week during Tropical Storm Irene last year, and he graded LIPA a 200 out of 1,000.

"We couldn't run the business," he said, adding that when LIPA repair crews finally got out to the store, the fix was quick. All other businesses on the street had power.

One of the biggest potential improvements for LIPA won't take place until the end of next year, when PSEG of New Jersey takes over the contract to manage the LIPA grid from National Grid, which conducted the work and managed outside crews during Irene. Germano said a new operating contract that will be in place in 2014 puts the primary focus of PSEG's efforts on customer satisfaction.

Among other regional utilities in the JD Power 2012 study, Con Edison ranked third with a score of 654, PSE&G ranked fourth with a score of 646, and National Grid ranked fifth with a score of 641. In the prior year, Con Ed ranked second with 648, PSE&G ranked fourth with a score of 625, and National Grid ranked fifth with a score of 624.

Con Ed and National Grid had bid for the LIPA contract for 2013, but PSEG outbid them.

The national study of 95 large utilities is based on responses from 17,886 online interviews with businesses.

JD Power said a utility's ability to provide "comprehensive information" about an outage and its estimated restoration time was key to the rankings.

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