A perfect storm of electric-system pitfalls has resulted in sticker shock for Greenport residents.
The village's failure to follow through on a plan to upgrade its electrical system during the past six years and the end of a long-term contract from the New York Power Authority that provided access to cheaper power were the two primary culprits in bills that have more than doubled for some village residents, officials said.
It's an unusual situation for residents whose bills have been significantly less than those of LIPA and PSEG Long Island customers. Greenport, like Rockville Centre and Freeport, operates independently from LIPA, purchasing much of its energy from the New York Power Authority.
At a village board meeting on Monday, Mayor David Nyce also acknowledged that Greenport was forced to pay a one-time extraordinary charge of $108,000 last year after one of three diesel generators run by the village failed to pass a state-mandated test, according to a resident at the meeting. Nyce did not return calls seeking comment.
Bill Swiskey, a village resident who worked for and ran the utility during a 38-year career before retiring in 2003, said the village had to acknowledge the mistake. "They had a big screw-up," he said.
Swiskey and other residents have been upset since the additional charges and costs began appearing on bills late last year.
In a Nov. 25 letter to the village obtained by Newsday, NYPA director Michael Lupo said Greenport received authorization from NYPA for a 2007 rate increase to collect $351,200 annually to begin upgrades. But in the past two years, NYPA "expressed concern with the village's pace of completing its electric system infrastructure upgrade plan, which was less rapid than expected."
Meanwhile, a long-term fixed-price contract for energy transmission from NYPA expired in October, replaced by a new, more costly one.Because of its slowness in making system upgrades, NYPA disallowed Greenport the option of recovering the higher costs of the new contract in rates. Customers were hit with the new fees in the purchased power adjustment clause in bills at last year's end.
For Swiskey and other moderate users, the purchased power adjustment charge was $80 in December, a jump from the typical $30."I was shocked," said Gary Charters, a retired Greenport village policeman. The surcharge on his bill went from $8.30 in October to $39 in November to $77 in December. "There's a lot of low-income people around Greenport. I don't know how they stay ahead."
Mary Bess Phillips, a village trustee, blamed the series of increases on the "perfect storm" of events, including the village's slowness in finishing electric system upgrades.
"The upgrade never seemed to get off the ground," she said in an interview, adding that the fund collected in rates to do the work remains in village coffers. "In the last year we as a board have been pushing to get the upgrade finished," she said.The work includes repairs to the three generator engines that deliver up to 5 megawatts of capacity to the village, when needed; modernizing system switches, and upgrading transformers. Phillips said one change in the transmission contract from NYPA was that the state agency requested payment up front instead of during the life of the contract, forcing the village to request more from ratepayers as the new contract took effect.
Connie Cullen, an NYPA spokeswoman, said the 2013 cost increases to Greenport were "driven by third-party charges levied by the New York Independent System Operator." She declined to comment further.