Hempstead Town this week laid claim to being the first town on Long Island to change laws to allow PSEG Long Island to designate local electricians and inspectors to restore power in an emergency.
Electrical inspections became an issue after superstorm Sandy when thousands of Long Island residents couldn't get power restored until their homes were deemed safe, including many that suffered no damage.
Hempstead Town Board members on Tuesday unanimously approved an amendment to bypass the town's restrictions that required repair work after a storm be first reviewed by private inspectors and then certified by the town.
"The overarching goal is to streamline the process so the restoration of power in a Sandy storm scenario is quickly changed and achieved as soon as possible," Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray said. "It basically gives PSEG more latitude on who can do the inspections in an emergency scenario."
The Hempstead Town law normally requires that all electrical repairs be performed by private electrical inspectors in Hempstead who had to get town approval before repairs were completed. The same law also applies to other towns and villages in Nassau County, Murray said.
The new code only applies when a state of emergency is declared, such as during a major storm, flood or hurricane or for situations that severely affect PSEG's service system, town officials said.
During Sandy, Hempstead worked with seven electrical inspection companies to restore power to 35,000 to 45,000 flooded homes that needed inspections. The town faced a severe shortage of inspectors, which could have led to a delay for several months, Murray said.
The new code follows exceptions made by the Long Island Power Authority during Sandy to allow licensed electricians to do repairs and inspections without being certified by an inspection company, Murray said. PSEG took over operations of the electrical grid from LIPA's previous contractor, National Grid, Jan. 1.
"This amendment appears to allow us to restore our customers a lot faster after a storm," PSEG spokesman Jeffrey Weir said.
The law also reaffirms that the duty of restoring power to homes will fall to PSEG, not the towns, Murray said. PSEG officials clarified their policy after angry opposition from several towns about a move to put the responsibility on towns.
Hempstead and other towns do not have electrical inspectors on staff. The new law gives PSEG the ability to bring in more electricians for inspections and repairs.
"As long as they're qualified electricians, they can come in and do their work," Murray said. "It should expedite the process to restore power."
An attorney for the Electrical Inspectors Association asked the town to delay its vote to discuss some changes, but Murray said the amendment was urgent because hurricane season has already started. Town officials agreed to meet with the association to discuss additional changes in the future.