State budget provides for gas station backup generators

Charles Tegeler, at a BP station on Hempstead Charles Tegeler, at a BP station on Hempstead Avenue in West Hempstead. (Nov. 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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ALBANY -- The state budget calls for some big changes in the wake of superstorm Sandy, including requiring backup power capability at some gasoline stations.

The budget also would toughen penalties for utilities that perform poorly -- including the possibility of losing their operating certificate. The certificate provision would apply only to private companies, not a public entity such as the Long Island Power Authority.

The budget, set to be enacted next week, counts on about $6 billion in federal Sandy aid. Some of the money will be used to provide grants for gas stations to purchase or lease generators, install them and rewire their stations if necessary. Officials said the New York Power Authority would stockpile generators that stations could lease.

The grants would be available to gas stations in New York City, Long Island and Westchester and Rockland counties.

"Providing funding to help gas stations in key areas pre-wire their stations to accommodate generators or purchase their own generators will help minimize service disruptions and ensure that fuel will be more accessible during a declared fuel-shortage emergency," Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said in a statement.

The budget also outlines parameters for what stations will be required to be capable of using emergency generators in the event of a declared fuel shortage. In general, they apply to stations on major highways and streets, and near exits in the downstate region.

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In most cases, grants of $10,000 or $13,000 will be available.

All gas stations within a half-mile of highway exits and evacuation routes would have until April 1, 2014, to comply with the new requirements.

Chains with 10 or more stations would have until Aug. 1, 2015, to pre-wire and, if necessary, place generators in 30 percent of their stations.

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Gas stations constructed or rebuilt anywhere in the state after April 1, 2014, would have to be pre-wired to accept a generator.

Kevin Beyer, president of the Long Island Gas Retailers Association, called the plan "a solution that works in everyone's best interest."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed for the backup-generator plan. "This is a critically important step to help ensure New York's fuel supply remains flowing and does not compound an emergency," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.

Cuomo also called for toughening penalties against utilities that perform poorly. Dollar amounts haven't been finalized -- indeed, many details of the budget are still under negotiation.

In January, the Cuomo-appointed Moreland Commission said the current $100,000-per-day limit on utility fines, along with a "very high" burden of proof, hurt the state's ability to crack down on companies and improve performance. The commission recommended making the maximum penalty 0.2 percent of a private company's gross revenue, which could total about $2 million for Con Edison, according to the commission.

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A Cuomo spokesman said the budget would authorize fines close to what the commission recommended. It will also ease the burden on the state Public Service Commission, which oversees, utilities, to sanction companies.

The new sanctions wouldn't apply to LIPA -- or a contractor such as National Grid that runs the system for LIPA. That's because LIPA isn't subject to Public Service Commission oversight.

"This is precisely why Gov. Cuomo has proposed a complete overhaul of LIPA," said Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing.

The governor has proposed privatizing the Island's power system but has met with local skepticism because of potential costs.

Con Ed spokesman Allan Drury said: "We must await final language before commenting."With Joan Gralla

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